MONROVIA, Former soccer star George Weah maintained his lead over Liberian Vice President Joseph Boakai on Friday as more provisional results from the West African country's presidential election were announced.
If current trends hold, the rivals would meet in a runoff next month to decide who will succeed Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in what would be Liberia's first democratic transfer of power in decades.
Based on returns from about a third of the country's more than 5,000 polling stations, Weah had received 39.6 percent of votes cast, with Boakai of the ruling Unity Party (UP) at 31.1 percent, the elections commission said.
"We are still confident that there are places that we believe are our strong support. ... We are very optimistic that with reports coming in, UP is going to take the lead," Boakai told Reuters after Friday's results announcement.
Charles Brumskine, a lawyer, was running third with 9.3 percent of the vote.
The final certified results from Tuesday's poll must be announced by October 25, although the provisional first-round winner is expected to be known in the coming days.
Weah, a star striker for Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan who won FIFA's World Player of the Year in 1995, came in second behind Johnson Sirleaf in a 2005 election that drew a line under years of civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.
He has served in the senate since 2014 for the Congress for Democratic Change opposition party.
Boakai, the former head of Liberia's petroleum refinery company and agriculture minister, has served as Liberia's vice president since 2006.
Brumskine and the parties of two other candidates have said the vote was marred by fraud and vowed to contest the results, though international election observers have said they saw no major problems.
"The Liberian people deserve to know what was done," Brumskine said. "They deserve a valid, transparent election. So many Liberians were deprived of their constitutional right to vote. We will, therefore, be requesting a rerun of the election."
Liberia, Africa's oldest modern republic, was founded by freed U.S. slaves in 1847, but its last democratic transfer of power occurred in 1944.
Johnson Sirleaf's nearly 12 years in office have seen the country's postwar peace consolidated, although Liberians complain about poor public services and widespread corruption.
Source: Voice of America