- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 11, 2011

MONROVIA, Liberia — Even as she basks in praise from abroad after sharing the Nobel Peace Prize, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is facing an election at home that she may lose.

She is credited with stabilizing Liberia after civil war, but most of the people voting in Tuesday’s election have not been able to find a job since she took office nearly six years ago.

Voters camped out overnight and formed lines that were dozens of people deep. They waited patiently for a chance to either re-elect Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf, or choose from one of the 15 opposition candidates who claim they will do a better job than her.

The 72-year-old Harvard-educated Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf is credited with luring donors and helping restructure the country’s debt.

The United States alone has poured in more than $600 million since Africa’s first democratically elected female leader took office, encouraged by her track record as a former World Bank economist.

And under her watch, an estimated $5 billion of the country’s external debt was wiped clean, allowing Liberia to re-establish a sovereign credit rating, a pre-requisite for issuing its own bonds. She has succeeded in lifting timber and diamond embargoes, and her government negotiated contracts with oil exploration firms in the hopes that Liberia could soon start pumping its own oil.

These accomplishments mean little, however, to the 80 percent of adults who are currently unemployed in this country, where a 14-year cycle of horrific violence only ended in 2003.

And since she took office, the nation has inched up only two spots, from 164th to 162nd place, on the 169-country index used to track development by the United Nations.

Her opponents - led by soccer star George Weah, who came in second to Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf in the last election - have tried to paint her as aloof and removed from the country’s problems.

Mr. Weah has made repeated references to the fact that he was born in a slum, unlike Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf, who is Americo-Liberian, the country’s elite who are descended from American slaves who returned to Africa to create a new colony.

In the Kendeja neighborhood of Monrovia, the 45-year-old Mr. Weah, who is running for vice president on a ticket with technocrat Winston Tubman, arrived in a convoy that included a Hummer.

Mr. Weah, one of Africa’s soccer sensations who played for AC Milan as well as Chelsea, is widely believed to have lost the election five years ago because of his limited schooling.

This time around he is running as the No. 2 alongside Mr. Tubman, who like Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf is Harvard-educated.

Both Mr. Weah and Mr. Tubman have given interviews and speeches arguing that Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf’s education and her former posting at the World Bank have done little to help the Liberian people.

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