Monrovia: Liberians vote on Tuesday in the West African state`s second presidential election since a civil war, with international appeals for rival supporters to stay peaceful during the hotly-contested poll.
The election pits the incumbent, Nobel peace laureate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, against former U.N. diplomat Winston Tubman and 14 others. It comes as Liberia stands to gain billions of dollars in foreign investment in its mining sector and its potential emergence as an oil nation.
Passions have run high in a contest some forecast will go to a second-round run-off between Johnson-Sirleaf and Tubman, and many voters recall how a dispute over the outcome of the 2005 election led to days of rioting in the capital Monrovia.
"If they give us exactly what was put in there, we will accept it," said Victor Freeman, a Monrovia resident who lost five family members in the civil war, referring to the ballot boxes.
"We don`t want fighting, we want a better Liberia," he said of Africa`s oldest republic, whose name reflects its founding in 1847 by freed U.S. slaves.
Eight years into peace, Liberia has seen growing investment in its iron and gold mines and has convinced donors to waive most of its debt, though many residents complain of a lack of basic services, high food prices, rampant crime and corruption.
Unemployment remains rife, war-wounded beg on the streets of the seaside capital and average income stands at $300 a year -- below the $1-a-day benchmark for extreme poverty.
Johnson-Sirleaf initially ruled out a second term, but has since said she needs one given the huge challenge. Her jocular campaign slogan -- "Monkey Still Working, Baboon Wait Small" -- urges Liberians to have a bit more patience.
Campaigning for the election has been mostly calm, though scuffles erupted between rival supporters in Monrovia during final rallies at the weekend.
The election will be Liberia`s first locally-organized presidential poll since the end of the 1989-2003 conflict that killed nearly a quarter of a million people. Johnson-Sirleaf became Africa`s first freely elected female head of state in the 2005 election that was organized by the United Nations.
Tubman, whose running mate is ex-soccer star George Weah, is expected to give Johnson-Sirleaf her toughest challenge.