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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.

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The next president?

At an old concrete hall in the middle of Sanniquellie, the small capital in Nimba, Johnson is met by thousands of supporters. During a round of thunderous applause as he spoke on the stage, some yelled: “Here’s the next president.”

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But while some people in Nimba, like Johnson himself, believe he will be the next president, most analysts think that Johnson’s political appeal among voters will never extend beyond his home county.

“To be a president you need to be more then popular" Guannu said. "He is not highly educated, even though he was high in the ranks and rose to lieutenant in the army. He cannot stand toe-to-toe with any of the leaders in Africa who are highly educated and experienced.”

While Johnson states with certainty that he can “deliver the people of Nimba to the Unity Party,” it remains uncertain whether Johnson will be able to convince all of his voters to back Johnson-Sirleaf, according to Dan Sayree of the Liberian Democratic institute.

“The general voting patterns of the population would suggest that it will be an automatic win for her,” said Mr. Sayree, adding that voting patterns and support for political parties can change during the second round. “But Johnson has a lot of work to do. It is uncertain that those voters who carried him previously will support him again in backing the UP.

An uneasy alliance

The details of the agreement between the Unity Party and Johnson have yet to be finalized or made public, but Johnson-Sirleaf’s alliance with Johnson could raise eyebrows among her supporters in the international community and questions domestically regarding the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's commitment to justice. Sayree has said that Johnson’s justifications for backing Johnson-Sirleaf, who has yet to comment on the alliance, could raise challenges for the president and possibly damage her profile domestically and abroad.

“His statements put Madame Sirleaf in a difficult position of providing reconciliation between the Nobel Peace Prize that she has won and the implications of the prize, versus the implications of a TRC Commission indictee saying that 'I am joining you because I don’t want to be prosecuted,'" says Sayree. "The issue is of concern because we want to build a society that will thrive on justice and not impunity, and Madam Johnson-Sirleaf has said repeatedly that she subscribes to the rule of law and justice.”

But for Johnson this matters little; he is the king, the father of a county that could determine who becomes Liberia’s next president.

“I don’t trust Ellen; I don’t trust even the CDC. But it is better the devil you have than the angel that is waiting to come.”

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