Former football star George Weah won Liberia’s presidential run-off with a projected 61.5 per cent of the vote, the country’s election commission said Thursday.
Mr Weah handily beat Vice President Joseph Boakai, who secured 38.5 per cent, the National Election Commission (NEC) said, with 98.1 per cent of votes counted.
Mr Weah will now succeed the continent’s first elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who took over at the helm of Africa’s oldest republic in 2006.
“The Liberian people clearly made their choice... and all together we are very confident in the result of the electoral process,” tweeted Mr Weah.
Mr Weah topped the first round of voting in October with 38.4 per cent of ballots but failed to win the 50 per cent necessary to avoid a run-off. Boakai came second with 28.8 per cent.
Mr Weah is the only African ever to have won FIFA’s World Player of the Year and the coveted Ballon D’Or.
The 51-year-old starred at top-flight European football clubs Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan in the 1990s before playing briefly in England for Chelsea and Manchester City later in his career.
Chelsea icon Didier Drogba has already sent Weah a congratulatory message.
“Is it President Weah?” said the New Dawn newspaper, referring to a man who had the backing of heavyweights including former warlord Prince Johnson and apparently the covert support of outgoing president Sirleaf.
Earlier, Mr Boakai, a 72-year-old public servant of four decades standing, said it was too early to crow victory.
“We are waiting for the final results. People are talking about Weah, but it’s only in his counties but not mine,” he said.
President Sirleaf’s office said it had set up a team “for the proper management and orderly transfer of executive power from one democratically elected president to another,” adding that it included several ministers.
Ms Sirleaf’s predecessor Charles Taylor fled the country in 2003, hoping to avoid prosecution for funding rebel groups in neighbouring Sierra Leone. He was arrested in 2006.
Two presidents who served prior to Taylor were assassinated.
The tumultuous events of the past seven decades in Liberia, where an estimated 250,000 people died during back-to-back civil wars between 1989 and 2003, have prevented a democratic handover from taking place since 1944.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed the “peaceful conduct” of the vote, praising “the government, political parties and the people of Liberia for the orderly poll”.
The EU’s chief observer, Maria Arena, congratulated the candidates and the Liberian people on a peaceful vote that “generally respected constitutional rules”.
The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) regional bloc also hailed the peaceful nature of the vote.
The election passed without a single major incident of violence despite weeks of delays caused by legal challenges and Liberians said they were looking forward to a peaceful handover after 12 years under Sirleaf.
“Since years of civil war this is the first time we see the transition of power from one person to another,” voter Oscar Sorbah told AFP.
The Sirleaf administration, elected in 2005, guided the nation out of the ruins of war and through the horrors of the 2014-16 Ebola crisis, but is accused of failing to combat poverty and corruption.
Weah’s CDC party watched their icon miss out on the presidency in a 2005 bid. He was similarly frustrated when he ran for vice-president in 2011. (AFP)