Liberia Elections Update: Prince Johnson for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

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Former warlord Prince Johnson. (c) Glenna Gordon

Tamasin Ford filed this story for the Guardian. 

A former warlord has announced that he will support Nobel peace prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia‘s run-off election, boosting her campaign to win a second term as the country’s president. The surprise move marks the latest stage in Prince Johnson’s transformation from war crimes suspect to political power broker in a country still reeling from a 14-year civil war.

Results announced on Sunday showed that Sirleaf, Africa‘s first freely elected female head of state, had won 44% of the vote ahead of her main rival, Winston Tubman, who received 32.2%. Johnson, who had previously said he would support Tubman, said on Tuesday he would back Sirleaf as the “lesser of two evils. I am one of the most powerful forces in the country,” he told the Guardian. “They thought I was irrelevant and now I’m the kingmaker. It’s great.”

Johnson was infamously filmed in 1990 drinking Budweiser beer while his men tortured and killed the former president Samuel Doe. He later fled to Nigeria, where he reinvented himself as a born-again Christian, and in 2005, he was elected a senator in Nimba, the country’s second largest county.

In 2009, Johnson was among 50 people who Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended should be banned from public office for 30 years, but the commission’s findings were ruled unconstitutional by the country’s supreme court, and Johnson won 12% of the vote in first round of the presidential election earlier this month.

Now Johnson portrays himself as a man forced to extremes in order to remove a dictator. “Senator Johnson of yesterday in combat against Doe is not the Senator Johnson now. He’s a born-again Christian. He’s an evangelist. He’s a man of God,” he said.

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