Liberia's Sirleaf has slight edge; runoff likely

By JONATHAN PAYE-LAYLEH | October 12, 2011 | 12:50 PM EDT

A poll worker walks past ballot boxes as he helps organize election materials being brought in from polling stations, at a National Election Commission warehouse in Monrovia, Liberia Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011. International and local election observers said Liberia's presidential election Tuesday was peaceful and there were no reported serious breaches in voting.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Africa's only female president who was just awarded the Nobel Peace prize for helping stabilize this war-torn nation led in unofficial results released Wednesday, but the early tally indicates she did not receive the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff.

That means that the Harvard-educated Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will likely need to face a second round of voting, which will pit her against the party of a soccer star who just completed college this year.

Official preliminary results are not due until Thursday, but a media consortium that sent observers to a large number of polling stations announced on state radio that Sirleaf's Unity Party was leading with 127,150 votes representing roughly 48 percent.

With just over 265,679 ballots counted — representing nearly 15 percent of registered voters — the party of George Weah was trailing with around 41 percent. The race's kingmaker appears to be senator Prince Johnson, a former warlord who videotaped himself torturing this nation's former president in 1990.

Johnson had clinched more than 30,000 votes, according to the results tabulated by the Liberia Media Center, representing nearly 11 percent.

Sirleaf, who is Africa's first democratically elected female leader, needs to get more than 50 percent of total votes in order to avoid a runoff against Weah, a former FIFA World Player of the Year who is running as the vice president on a ticket with technocrat Winston Tubman. Most observers are expecting the race to go to a second round.

International and local election observers said the election on Tuesday was peaceful, and there were no major breaches in voting and no serious incidences of violence.

Liberia is recovering from a horrific 14-year civil war that ended in 2003, and Sirleaf shared last week's Nobel Peace prize for her nonviolent struggle on behalf of women and for helping maintain peace in Liberia since she took office nearly six years ago.

"Overall, the process unfolded in a quiet atmosphere with no incidents reported thus far," the Chairman of the National Elections Commission James Fromoyan told a news conference late Tuesday. "The day was peaceful and calm."

In a statement released in New York, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the election "an important milestone" and described the voting as "smooth."

His observations were echoed by the head of the 150-member Economic Community of West Africa delegation, Attahiru Jega.

"From the reports that we have received," he told reporters. "The election has been peaceful and has been conducted in an orderly manner."