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Prince as kingmaker: Can an ex-warlord deliver Johnson-Sirleaf the Liberian presidency?

Senator Prince Johnson has pledged his support to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in the second round of Liberia's presidential elections, despite having accused her of vote-rigging.

By Clair MacDougallCorrespondent / October 25, 2011

Liberians listen to the announcement of election results on a portable radio in the 19th Street area of Sinkor, Monrovia, Liberia, Oct.14.

Rebecca Blackwell/AP

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Liberia's self-proclaimed "kingmaker," Senator Prince Johnson, has made his decision: He will support President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in next month's run-off, despite accusing her of rigging the Oct. 11 first-round election.

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It's “for the sake of the nation,” he says.

Mr. Johnson, best known around the world for ordering the 1990 torture and murder of then-President Samuel Doe, has emerged as one of the most important political players in Liberia’s presidential elections.

Johnson's National Union for Democratic Progress (NUDP) party came in third in the first-round presidential vote, with 11.6 percent. But with neither President Johnson-Sirleaf’s Unity Party (UP) nor the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) – headed by Harvard-educated Winston Tubman and his vice presidential candidate, soccer legend George Weah – able to command a majority of the vote required for victory, Johnson's support will likely decide the winner of the second-round vote.

The former warlord turned evangelical Christian is well known in Liberia for his dramatic public statements and erratic political behavior – his pledge of support for the UP followed his threat, made with other opposition parties, to boycott the runoff due to alleged electoral fraud. And senior NUDP members criticized his current support for Johnson-Sirleaf, saying they did not endorse his support of the UP over the CDC.

But for Johnson, who has been a vocal critic of President Johnson-Sirleaf throughout the campaign, the choice seemed logical. Johnson-Sirleaf is not an Americo-Liberian like Mr. Tubman. Mr. Weah insulted Johnson and rejected his proposition to be his running mate because Johnson was indicted under recommendation by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). But most importantly, Johnson-Sirleaf says she would not implement the recommendations of the TRC to try Johnson.

In front of numerous supporters on the stoop of a hotel in Ganta, a town in Johnson's political stronghold of Nimba County, Johnson said jokingly said that it was better to support one who has also been indicted by the TRC, than someone who was not an indictee.

The contentious TRC recommended that Johnson-Sirleaf be banned from Liberian politics for 30 years, due to her alleged support for former President Charles Taylor in the early stages of the insurgency. It also recommended that Johnson by prosecuted for human rights violations, including sanctioning killing, abduction, torture, forced labor, and rape. Tubman had previously said he would implement the recommendations and prosecute, but later retracted his statement when Johnson announced he would support Johnson-Sirleaf.

Despite his allegations of electoral fraud, Johnson has said that he will support Johnson-Sirleaf “for the sake of the nation," and his own presidential ambitions in the 2017 elections.

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