Monrovia (Liberia): Liberian voters camped out overnight, forming lines 500-people deep outside voting stations on Tuesday as polls opened in Liberia's Presidential election, expected to serve as a referendum on the performance of Africa's first democratically elected female head of state.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 72, won the Nobel Peace prize last week and was credited by the committee with maintaining peace in this nation on Africa's western seaboard that only recently emerged from one of the continent's most horrific civil wars.
She is less popular at home, however, and is facing 15 opposition candidates including soccer star George Weah, a former forward for Chelsea and AC Milan, who came in second during the 2005 election.
He is running as the vice presidential candidate to Winston Tubman, a technocrat who is Harvard-educated, just like Sirleaf.
Analysts and veteran observers say Sirleaf is facing stiff competition because the nation's nearly 4 million people still live in abject poverty and because of resentment over the wide gap between rich and poor.
Michael Jallah, 19, arrived at a polling station in Monrovia at 4:30 am, holding a Barcelona umbrella in wet weather, the reference to the Spanish soccer club acting as a clue to his political affiliation.
"This is the day we have all been waiting for," he said. "I support Winston Tubman and George Weah. We want a real change in this country."
Sirleaf is credited with maintaining peace, as well as erasing nearly USD 5 billion of the country's external debt, a move that allowed Liberia to establish a sovereign credit rating so that they could issue government bonds.
She has also transformed the country's image, from a nation known for its mass graves and its scenes of execution, to one that is now considered a democracy.
Although her government has built schools, roads and hospitals, even her supporters acknowledge that her greatest achievements are intangible peace, security, investor confidence.
"This country has come a long way under Ellen, people may not see, but you have to be blind not to see what's she doing," said Comfort Rogers, 34, as she wiped rain water off her face and waited to vote at the GW Gibson voting station in downtown Monrovia.