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 didn't 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 popular soccer star who has appealed to voters by portraying Sirleaf as an Ivy Leaguer who is out of touch with the country's impoverished population.
Official preliminary results are not due until Thursday, but an independent media consortium that sent observers to a large number of polling stations announced on state radio that Sirleaf's Unity Party was leading with 140,330 votes representing roughly 48 percent.
With just over 293,544 ballots counted _ representing around 16 percent of registered voters _ the party of George Weah was trailing with around 40 percent. The race's kingmaker appears to be senator Prince Johnson, a former warlord who videotaped himself in 1990 drinking beer as he ordered his men to cut off the ears of this nation's former president, who later died.
Johnson had clinched more than 35,000 votes, according to the results tabulated by the Liberia Media Center, representing 12 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 African States 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."