Harvard woman wins Liberian presidency

November 12, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

DAKAR, Senegal --Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated economist and former World Bank official who waged a fierce presidential campaign against soccer star George Weah, emerged victorious yesterday in her quest to lead war-torn Liberia and become the first woman elected head of state in modern African history.

"Everything is on our side," said Morris Dukuly, a spokesman for Johnson-Sirleaf. "The voters have chosen a new and brighter future."

With 97 percent of the runoff vote counted yesterday, Johnson-Sirleaf held an insurmountable lead with 59 percent to Weah's 41 percent, in a nation where women make up just over half the electorate.

Johnson-Sirleaf's victory propels her into an old boys' club unlike any other. Men have dominated African politics from the earliest days of the anti-colonial struggle.

Indeed, when supporters of Johnson-Sirleaf, 66, a one-time United Nations official and Liberian finance minister, marched through the broken streets of Monrovia in the final, frantic days of the campaign for Liberia's presidency, they shouted and waved signs that read, "Ellen - she's our man."

Dukuly said Johnson-Sirleaf held off formally declaring victory because Weah, who enjoys broad support among Liberia's huge youth population, alleged the vote was tainted by fraud.

Weah said he had submitted a formal complaint to the Supreme Court, which will investigate. International observers said that while there were some irregularities, they were too small to change the outcome.

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