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    Liberia: Ballon d’Or winner becomes president

    APA-Monrovia (Liberia)

    Liberia’s accomplished former footballer George Weah has dribbled his main challenger, Joseph Boakai, finally unleashing a successful shot at his country’s presidency after two unsuccessful bids in the past.

    According to provisional results from the electoral commission, the 1995 World Player of the Year polled 61.5 percent of the votes ahead of Joseph Boakai, his main contender in the two-horse race who secured 38.5 percent of 98.1 percent of the overall ballot.

    Reacting on his Facebook page shortly after the National Electoral Commission made the announcement Mr Weah wrote: “My fellow Liberians, I deeply feel the emotion of the nation. I measure the importance and the responsibility of the immense task which I embrace today. Change is on”.

    Weah is now set to replace outgoing President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf whose second and final six-year term comes to an end shortly.

    The 51-year-old could never have had a more realistic shot at the Liberian presidency as the overwhelming favourite to beat Boakai going into last Tuesday’s run-off.

    Of all the 40 contenders for president in the first ballot on October 10, his candidacy was seen as the most credible threat to upset the apple cart and prevent the ruling Unity Party from continuing in power after twelve years.

    This prediction lived up to its billing, as the 1995 World Footballer of the Year won the election but without the requisite 50 percent plus 1 vote to avoid a second round.

    Boakai followed in second place, setting the stage for the run-off which was delayed because another candidate had petitioned the Supreme Court complaining of widespread electoral irregularities which was upheld.

    After almost a month of courtroom battles over the integrity of the October polls, judges gave the run-off their green light.

    December 26 which is the date of the run-off carries a special significance for Weah.

    It was on Boxing Day, 1995 that he became the first and only African footballer to date to win the coveted Ballon d’Or, FIFA’s highest honour for an individual player.  

    Prior to the polls, political pundits in Liberia said it was now or never for Weah, whose best shot at the presidency could never have put the ruling Unity Party at a more vulnerable position.

    A year after retiring from football he had gone head-to-head with President Johnson-Sirleaf in the 2005 election, losing to her in the second round despite coming out on top in the earlier poll.

    Liberians were just emerging from a second devastating civil war and though they could rely on a steady and experience hand in the educated upper class Johnson-Sirleaf instead of a young rookie politician who had conquered the football pitch but could be out of his depth in the art of statecraft.

    He was relying heavily on his popularity as Liberia’s most illustrious player who had gone out of his way to serve his country on and off the pitch.

    Weah is best remembered for shouldering the financial burden of the national side at a time when Liberia was mired in two devastating civil wars, purchasing jerseys for the team and paying for the airfares of teammates to honour international qualifiers all over Africa.

    Born in the Monrovia slum of Clara Town on October 1, 1966, Weah’s rise to football and political stardom, is one of the most compelling rags-to-riches stories to come out of his country for a generation.

    His parents were William T. Weah, Sr. and Anna Quayeweah, but he was raised largely by his paternal grandmother, Emma Klonjlaleh Brown.

    He belongs to the Kru ethnic group, from south-eastern Liberia's Grand Kru County, one of the poorest parts of the country.

    He attended middle school at the Muslim Congress in Monrovia and high school at Wells Hairston High School also in the capital.

    Before his football career kicked off abroad, Weah worked for the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation as a switchboard technician.

    Plying his trade in illustrious European clubs such as AC Milan, Paris St Germain and Chelsea, he cemented his place as one of Africa’s greatest ever player after winning the 1995 World Best Player of the Year or Ballon d'Or.

    He had capped this sterling achievement by winning the African Footballer of the Year, in 1989, 1994 and 1995 and 1996.

    He was named African Player of the Century, thanks to his acceleration, speed, and dribbling ability, in addition to his goal-scoring exploits.

    World football governing body FIFA described him as the precursor of the multi-functional strikers of today.

    After 14 years of an illustrious football career in France, Italy and England, Weah retired from the game and announced his intention to run for president in Liberia, coinciding with the end of the second Liberian civil war.

    He formed the Congress for Democratic Change and faced Sirleaf in a run-off but lost in a bitterly contested election.

    Although a popular figure in Liberia, opponents often cited his lack of serious formal education as a handicap to his ability to govern the post-war country, a baggage that still follows him into the 2017 elections.

    Analysts also point to his lack of experience, cynically referring to him as a "babe-in-the-woods".

    In the 2011 election, he ran unsuccessfully as the running mate of Winston Tubman on the ticket of the Congress for Democratic Change candidate but finally won elective office in 2014 when he contested the senatorial seat for Montserrado County, romping to victory by a 78 percent majority.

    With a successful shot at the presidency, the question that follows is whether this jovial but confident man who had conquered challenges on the football pitch could translate his footballing exploits on the tricky game of improving the lives of Liberians who are still living the ravaging effects of two long and bloody civil wars.  


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