Liberia's leading opposition candidate announced Friday he is pulling out of next week's presidential runoff election, a move that would guarantee victory for the country's ruling party but would rob the electoral process of its legitimacy.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Winston Tubman said he and his running mate, soccer star George Weah, were boycotting Tuesday's runoff because they are not convinced the process will be fair. "The election machinery is still flawed, as it was in the first round," he said.
It's not the first time that Tubman's party has threatened a boycott. When it became clear in October that incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was leading the first round of voting with over 45 percent, the Congress for Democratic Change joined seven other opposition parties in signing a statement saying they were pulling out of the presidential poll.
They rejoined the electoral process days later, after the chairman of the National Elections Commission resigned following allegations he favored Sirleaf, the country's Harvard-educated president who was just awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize.
On Friday, Tubman and a spokesman for the CDC said they were again boycotting the vote because their demands to have the electoral body reconstituted have been ignored.
"The CDC will not engage in the runoff," George Solo, the party's deputy campaign manager, said. "Simply because the necessary changes that we have requested can not be done in a good enough timeline to allow the process on the 8th of November to be free, fair and transparent," he said.
As he spoke, hundreds of party supporters stood outside chanting: "We are not voting in the runoff!"
Solo said the fact that National Elections Commission Chairman James Fromoyan stepped down was not enough. International observers have repudiated the CDC's claims of fraud, saying that voting in the first round had been orderly and no major breaches of protocol were observed.
"We have always called for the departure of Mr. Fromoyan and the reconstitution of NEC. The language of reconstituting NEC is very critical in the sense that we have put out our concerns of institutional and systematic fraud and irregularities," he said. "If that is our belief, then it clearly does not lie on the desk of one individual," he said.
"So simply to remove Mr. Fromoyan," he said, "and replace him with people who worked with him and were part of the decision-making process that we claim are part of the organ of fraud, and you elevate them, then what have you resolved?"
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed "the importance of peaceful, credible, transparent elections" and urged all Liberians not to resort to violence despite political disagreement, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
Ban expressed support for efforts by the West African regional group, ECOWAS, and U.N. envoy Ellen Margrethe Loj "to promote dialogue among the Liberian stakeholders, in an effort to build confidence in the electoral process," he said in a statement at U.N. headquarters in New York.
Associated Press writer Edith Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this story