Former international soccer star George Weah maintained an early lead in Liberia's election Friday as the West African nation released a second round of provisional results of the vote to succeed Africa's first female president.
With 20 candidates, observers expect a runoff election. National Election Commission Chairman Jerome Korkoya has warned candidates' supporters against declaring victory until final results are announced, which must be done by Oct. 25. A candidate must get just over 50 percent to avoid a runoff.
Based on about 33 percent of the votes cast at more than 5,300 polling stations, Weah had 39.6 percent of the ballots counted. He held a slight lead over Vice President Joseph Boakai, who received 31.1 percent, according to election commission data. Charles Brumskine was third with 9.3 percent.
Liberia seeks a successor to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who led the country as it recovered from civil war and the Ebola outbreak that killed nearly 5,000 Liberians.
The 51-year-old Weah is a former striker for AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain. His youthful Congress for Democratic Change party is in a coalition with two others, including the National Patriotic Party of now-jailed former President Charles Taylor. Weah's running mate is Jewel Howard-Taylor, Taylor's ex-wife.
Boakai, who has been vice president for nearly 12 years, is running for the ruling Unity Party.
One of Liberia's largest political parties has called for a halt to vote-counting, alleging voting irregularities and fraud. The Liberty Party claims that polls opened late and that ballot-tampering occurred in at least one location in the capital, Monrovia.
The Liberty Party's candidate is Brumskine, a corporate lawyer who placed third in 2005 elections and fourth in 2011.
The election commission is ready to listen to official complaints but the vote-counting will continue, spokesman Henry Boyd Flomo said. He said he could not address the accusation of ballot-tampering but acknowledged that many voters found it difficult to find their voting station. Everyone was allowed to vote, he added.
The Carter Center, which observed elections, has commended Liberians "for the calm and peaceful atmosphere" of the vote. It noted difficulties with long lines and management of voter lists but said it could not give a final assessment until vote counting is complete.
"No matter the outcome of this election, it will result in a transfer of power from one democratically elected government to another for the first time in the lives of many Liberians," it said in a statement.