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Liberia’s presidential election likely headed for a run-off in closest race since end of civil war

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Liberia’s presidential election Wednesday appeared headed for a run-off, with the top candidates neck and neck and the votes nearly fully counted.

President George Weah, who is seeking a second term, had 43.8% of the vote with his main challenger Joseph Boakai at 43.4%, according to the National Elections Commission. A candidate needs more than 50% of the vote to win.

Once the votes from this round are finalized, the run-off will take place within 15 days.

The Oct. 10 election is the tightest in the nearly two decades since the end of the country’s civil war that killed some 250,000 people.

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The final tally will have to wait until the end of the week, when re-voting is expected in two places in Nimba county because ballot boxes were stolen, said the commission. Nimba is an opposition stronghold but the outcome will not significantly alter the results or push anyone across the finish line, analysts said.

Weah, 57, a former international soccer star, came to power six years ago in the first democratic transfer of power in the West African nation since the end of the country’s back-to-back civil wars between 1989 and 2003.

Weah won that election amid high hopes brought about by his promise to fight poverty and generate infrastructure development in Africa’s oldest republic. His goal, he had said in 2017, was to push Liberia from a low-income country to a middle-income one.

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But Weah has been accused of not living up to key campaign promises that he would fight corruption and ensure justice for victims of the country’s civil wars.

This is the second time he has faced Boakai, whom he defeated by more than a 20% margin in the 2017 election.

Boakai, who served as vice president under Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first democratically elected female leader, campaigned on a promise to rescue Liberia from what he called Weah’s failed leadership, dubbing himself and his running mate “Rescue 1” and “Rescue 2.”

Many election watchers thought there would be a stronger third party candidate to spread the vote but that wasn’t the case, said Ibrahim Al-bakri Nyei, political analyst and director at the Ducor Institute for Social and Economic Research.

“There’s no clear winner. It shows the president is strong in some areas, but it also shows there is high public discontent with the government given the huge support for the opposition,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Sam Mednick in Dakar, Senegal contributed.