Former FIFA World Player of the Year George Weah has been elected Liberia’s new president by a wide margin as the West African nation faces its first democratic transfer of power in more than 70 years.
Vice President Joseph Boakai conceded on Friday, congratulating the ex-soccer star. With more than 98% of votes counted, Weah received 61.5% of the ballots while Boakai received 38.5%.
Africa’s first female president, Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, is stepping aside after two terms at the head of the nation founded by freed American slaves. She led the country from back-to-back civil wars and saw it through a deadly Ebola outbreak that killed nearly 5,000 Liberians. However, she also was criticized for not better tackling corruption.
The 51-year-old Weah, a senator who entered politics after retiring from soccer more than a decade ago, led the first-round vote in October but didn’t receive enough ballots to win outright over the 73-year-old Boakai, who has been vice president for 12 years. Sirleaf didn’t publicly support either candidate.
Weah is expected to take office in January.
Though voter turnout for Tuesday’s runoff was low, he drew support from the younger generation, which makes up a majority of Liberia’s population of 4.6 million people.
“We are young people and have suffered in this country for so long,” said one supporter, Love Norrision.
Elections commission officials said 56% of the country’s 2.2 million registered voters cast ballots in the runoff, which was contested twice in court amid claims of irregularities, with its original Nov. 7 date delayed.
Weah led the ticket for a coalition party, the Congress for Democratic Change, with Jewel Howard-Taylor as his running mate. She is a senator and the ex-wife of imprisoned former warlord and President Charles Taylor, which raised concerns among some Liberians.
The Washington-based National Democratic Institute, which observed Tuesday’s runoff, called it peaceful and commended the elections commission for “notable improvements since the Oct. 10 polls.”
This was Liberia’s first independently run election since the end of its civil wars. The United Nations has helped to oversee past votes.