MONROVIA, Liberia — After allegations of election fraud and a delayed runoff that raised fears about a constitutional crisis, Vice President Joseph Boakai of Liberia accepted defeat in the country’s presidential election on Friday and offered his support to the new government.
“I congratulate the winner, Ambassador George Manneh Weah, and pray that God will guide and guard him as he takes upon the onerous responsibility of steering the affairs of our nation,” Mr. Boakai said outside his party’s headquarters in Monrovia.
By conceding the race to Mr. Weah, a former international soccer star, Mr. Boakai helped pave the way for the first democratic transition of power in the West African country in more than 70 years. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is stepping down after two terms as Africa’s first democratically elected female president.
Unofficial election returns released on Thursday tallying more than one million votes showed that Mr. Weah won by a wide margin, receiving 61.5 percent of the vote compared with Mr. Boakai’s 38.5 percent. Turnout was low, with around 56 percent of registered voters casting ballots, in part because the election was scheduled for the day after Christmas.
On Friday, the outgoing vice president traded confrontation for conciliation in making what he said was a decision for the good of the country, and dismissing the idea of challenging the results in court.
“I reject any temptation of imposing pain, hardship, agony and uncertainty on our people,” he said, alluding to past conflicts in Liberia’s transitions of power. “My name will not be used as an excuse for one drop of human blood to be spilled in this country.”
“It has never been about me, it has always been and should always be about Liberia,” he added, urging Liberians to reconcile.
Mr. Weah has said he would not comment until the National Elections Commission officially declared him the winner. He is expected to take office in January.
When the preliminary results pointing to Mr. Weah’s victory were announced, Liberians took to the streets and cheered. Many returned to the streets after Mr. Boakai’s concession speech.
Mr. Weah, a senator who also ran for president in 2005 and for vice president in 2011, placed first in a crowded field in the first round of voting, winning 38.4 percent of the votes. Though his support was stronger than most analysts had expected, it was not enough to win outright.
As the date of the runoff approached, Mr. Boakai and his supporters within the governing Unity Party asserted that Mrs. Sirleaf had interfered in the election, accusations she denied. The vice president and the third-place candidate, who won just under 10 percent, took their case all the way to the Liberian Supreme Court, delaying the final vote by two months.
The election’s peaceful conclusion was seen by some as a milestone for the fledgling democracy, which was founded almost two centuries ago by freed American slaves but has not seen a peaceful transition of power since 1944.
Ibrahim al-Bakri Nyei, 30, a doctoral student in Liberian politics, came of age during a 14-year civil war that left 250,000 dead and the nation’s infrastructure destroyed. On Friday, he said he was “very proud.”
“It builds my confidence in the future of my country that I will also have the opportunity to participate in the democratic process,” he said, adding, “If members of my generation are to ascend to power, it should not be through the barrel of a gun.”
With an ailing economy and a young population yearning for jobs and a decent education, Mr. Weah, whose only experience in government has been his three years as a senator, has many challenges ahead of him.
Mr. Nyei, for one, will be watching closely.
“We will look very keenly to see how the next government upholds the rule of law, upholds freedom of expression and fundamental human rights,” he said, “to ensure this democratic process is not reversed.”
The AfricaPaper: Our sincere thanks to The New York Times for this story