KDAQ Repairs:

4:26pm

Mon October 17, 2011
Africa

Liberian President Confident Ahead Of Runoff

Originally published on Tue October 18, 2011 11:05 am

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, fresh from winning the Nobel Peace Prize, was hoping for an outright re-election victory last week.

But Africa's first democratically elected female leader is facing a runoff election next month. She says she is confident Liberians will vote for her in big numbers, but the first-round voting last Tuesday shows she is facing stiff competition after six years in power.

Dressed in an African print and linen ensemble in pale and navy blues, topped off with her signature turban headwrap, 72-year-old Johnson Sirleaf is gracious during an interview, but looks tired after the election campaign.

That air of weariness vanishes as she defends her record and her promise to rebuild Liberia. She was elected two years after the end of the civil war in 2003.

"First of all, I think you have to look at Liberia's progress in the context of where we were when we started," she said. "This was a broken country — collapsed economy. People were not making anything, $15 a month for civil servants. Today the lowest pay is $100 a month. There was no investment, there was capital flight."

"Today we've mobilized $16 billion in direct foreign investment," she added. "Now it takes time for that investment to translate into jobs, into infrastructure improvement. We have now laid the foundation. All of the things that we now need will come in the next few years, because of what we've done in these past six years."

Corruption Still An Issue

One of Johnson Sirleaf's campaign pledges in 2005 was that corruption would be public enemy No. 1. Her critics and political opponents say instead of zero tolerance, her administration has allowed graft to prosper. Senior government officials have been fired for corruption — but how many have been prosecuted and imprisoned?

"We have done everything to ensure that our fight against corruption is not just going to be one sentimental trial here or there," she said. "But we are going to have prevention, which is a much better way for a permanent cure. I grant you that prosecutions are to come. And they will come. We're coming back to them right after elections."

Johnson Sirleaf also issues a word of warning to Liberia's political opposition, which over the weekend alleged vote count fraud in the president's favor, after the first round of voting.

"What we don't want is for opposition people to try to pre-empt the process by all these false accusations and claims," she said. "Just like they claimed that the first round was fraudulent because they thought we were going to win. Yes, we wanted to win — and we had made projections to win. Now that they have found out that, in fact, it was so free and fair that a runoff is in the making — now they've accepted the results."

Observers are predicting a close race in the Nov. 8 runoff between Johnson Sirleaf and Winston Tubman, a fellow Harvard graduate.

"I've been in close fights all my life and I've won every one of them and this one will be the same," Johnson Sirleaf said. "We have a record before the Liberian people. That's how come we're so far ahead in the polls. And, in the second round, we're going to work hard, we're going to make sure that we take our case to the people. And I'm just convinced that the people will stand by us."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST: And I'm Robert Siegel. Liberia's president was hoping for an outright first round victory after last week's election, but Africa's first democratically elected female leader is facing a runoff next month. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the recent recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She's a Harvard graduate. And she says she is confident Liberians will vote for her. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton sat down to chat with President Johnson Sirleaf about her record after six years in power.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Dressed in an African cotton print and linen ensemble in pale and navy blues, topped off with her signature turban head wrap, 72 year-old President Johnson Sirleaf is gracious, but looks tired after the election campaign and the hotly contested first round vote last Tuesday. But that air of weariness vanishes as she defends her record and her promise to rebuild Liberia. She was elected two years after the end of the civil war in 2003.

PRESIDENT ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF: First of all, I think you have to look at Liberia's progress in the context of where we were when we started in 2006. This was a broken country, collapsed economy. There was no investment. There was capital flight. Today, we've mobilized 16 billion in direct foreign investment. Now, it takes time for that investment to translate into jobs, into infrastructure improvement. We have now laid the foundation.

QUIST-ARCTON: One of Johnson Sirleaf's campaign pledges back in 2005 was that corruption would be public enemy number one in Liberia. Her critics and political opponents say instead of zero tolerance, her administration has allowed graft to prosper. Senior government officials have been fired for corruption, but how many have been prosecuted and imprisoned?

SIRLEAF: We have done everything to make sure that our fight for corruption is not just going to be one sentimental trial here or there, but that we're going to have prevention, which is much better way for a permanent cure. I grant you that prosecutions are to come, and they will come. We're coming back to them right after elections.

QUIST-ARCTON: And here, a word of warning to Liberia's political opposition, which over the weekend alleged a vote count fraud in the president's favor after the first round.

SIRLEAF: What we don't want is for opposition people to try to preempt the process by all these false accusations and claims. Yes, we wanted to win, and we had made projections to win. Now that they have found out that, in fact, it was so free and fair that a runoff is now in a making, now they've accepted the results. So you see, they ought to wait, be a part of the process, be peaceful, eschew violence and the best person will win.

QUIST-ARCTON: So does Johnson Sirleaf expect to win in what observers predict will be a close race? And what if she loses the runoff?

SIRLEAF: I've been in close fights all my life, and I've won every one of them, and this one will be the same. We have a record before the Liberian people, and I am just convinced that the people will stand by us.

QUIST-ARCTON: President Johnson Sirleaf ready, she says, to take on her presidential challenger, Winston Tubman, another Harvard graduate, in Liberia's runoff scheduled November 8. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Monrovia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.