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Liberia’s civil war, from 1980 to 2003, claimed more than 250,000 lives and wrecked the country’s institutions and infrastructure. A 2003 peace deal ended the war, and a transitional government ruled until 2005, when democratic elections brought Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf to power.

Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch, said Tuesday’s election could be an important step in cementing Liberia’s stability.

Liberia has enjoyed a hard-won peace for over eight years and [Tuesday’s] election, taking place in a largely peaceful environment, is but one of the important dividends of that gain,” she said.

“While the Liberian institutions responsible for maintaining rule of law and security remain weak, I believe Liberians are committed to avoiding a return to the long and painful years of armed conflict.”

Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf said she would make road construction a priority, if re-elected. “During the campaign, I went on all of the roads throughout the country, and so I felt the pain that our people feel traveling on those roads,” she said.

She acknowledged Liberia’s slow pace of development, but she suggested it is out of her control.

“Sometimes our people are so impatient they think there’s a quick fix for everything — once you sign something, their lives will be changed immediately,” she said. “Progress takes time, and our capacity to even implement things at the pace we want is limited.

“I wish we would’ve been two times more in our progress than where we are today, but I know the capacity limitations because I live it every day.”

A Harvard-educated economist who worked for the U.N. Development Program and the World Bank before coming to power, Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf routinely is accused by her political opponents of courting accolades abroad while failing to help ordinary Liberians.

Asked whether the Nobel Prize could be viewed as the international community’s unofficial endorsement of her re-election bid, Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf said she thinks the timing “just happened to be coincidental.”

“It comes this time of the year, every year,” she said. “If it has good effects on my chances, I’m not going to apologize for that. But I don’t think that was the intent.”