MONROVIA • Former football star George Weah has won Liberia's presidential run-off election and will succeed incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf next month.
In the country's first democratic transition in more than 70 years - with 98.1 per cent of the vote counted - Mr Weah led with 61.5 per cent to Vice-President Joseph Boakai's 38.5 per cent, National Elections Commission chairman Jerome Korkoyah said on Thursday.
At his party headquarters near the capital Monrovia, tears streamed down Mr Weah's face as he greeted supporters from a balcony. Below, hundreds of young people sang and danced to live Hipco music - a form of Liberian hip-hop popular with the country's impoverished youth.
Mr Weah grew up in the Clara Town slum in Monrovia, and went on to become the only African to win the Fifa World Player Of The Year award. He played for AC Milan, Paris St Germain and Chelsea.
His popularity at home fuelled a previous run for president in 2005, and he won the first round but lost the second round to Ms Johnson Sirleaf, who he will now succeed.
Mr Weah's rags-to-riches story helped him tap into dissatisfaction with his predecessor's 12-year tenure. Ms Johnson Sirleaf drew a line under years of civil war but attracted criticism for failing to root out corruption and persistent poverty.
Mr Weah, in a Twitter post after the results were announced, said: "My fellow Liberians, I deeply feel the emotion of all the nation. I measure the importance and the responsibility of the immense task which I embrace today. Change is on."
Mr Weah's critics, however, said he has offered few concrete policy proposals. His choice of running mate, Ms Jewel Howard-Taylor, has also raised eyebrows. Ms Howard-Taylor is the ex-wife of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who is serving 50 years in a British prison for war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
The United Nations and the Economic Community of West African States hailed the peaceful polls. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres praised "the government, political parties and the people of Liberia for the orderly poll", which the European Union said "generally respected constitutional rules".
Founded by freed US slaves in 1847, Liberia is Africa's oldest modern republic. The last democratic transfer of power was in 1944. A military coup took place in 1980 and a 14-year civil war ended in 2003.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE