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Liberia Elects Soccer Star George Weah Its Next President

Liberian election officials said Thursday that soccer great George Weah, seen addressing an October campaign rally in Monrovia, had won the presidential runoff.
Issouf Sanogo
AFP/Getty Images
Liberian election officials said Thursday that soccer great George Weah, seen addressing an October campaign rally in Monrovia, had won the presidential runoff.

Former international soccer star George Weah has won Liberia's presidential runoff, the country's election commission announced Thursday.

Weah won 61.5 percent of the vote, with more than 98 percent of ballots counted. He defeated the current vice president, Joseph Boakai.

This marks the first time in 70 years that Liberia will transfer power from one elected president to another. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and the first female head of state elected in Africa, is stepping down after two terms in office. She did not publicly endorse either candidate.

Weah had run unsuccessfully for president twice before. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports that many Liberians identify with the 51-year-old footballer, who grew up poor and was not part of the social or political elite. Critics say Weah has limited experience and education.

The job won't be easy, as Ofeibea explainedon NPR's Morning Edition:

"Liberians will tell you that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the outgoing president, has managed to cement peace, which is hugely important after back-to-back civil wars and then that Ebola outbreak three years ago in Liberia but that she has not done enough to make Liberians prosper, to pull them out of poverty and to give them jobs and deal with the economy. And also, there have been allegations of corruption. So whoever wins has huge challenges ahead of him."

Soccer's international governing body, FIFA, has described Weah as "a towering figure on the '90s football scene." He burst onto the world stage at Monaco under manager Arsene Wenger and went on to play at some of the sport's pre-eminent clubs: Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan, Chelsea and Manchester City. He is the only African player to have won FIFA's World Player of the Year. He announced his retirement in August 2003.

Weah's vice president will be Jewel Howard Taylor, ex-wife of former president Charles Taylor, who is serving a 50-year sentence for war crimes. Some are asking whether the former president will try to influence the country's politics from prison.

"She's my colleague in the Senate," Weah told Deutsche Welle, explaining his choice of running mate. "She is a Liberian, capable, qualified, and Liberian people love her. I also believe in gender and equality, so I think having a woman as my vice president is a good thing."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: December 27, 2017 at 10:00 PM MST
A previous version of this story incorrectly said George Weah is 53. He is 51.
Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.