The vote is seen as a crucial test of Liberia’s stability. Sirleaf, Africa’s first female elected head of state, is stepping down after a maximum two six-year terms in which she steered the country away from the trauma of civil war, but, say critics, failed to tackle its poverty.

LATE BALLOTS

Mr Cummings’ ANC party said it was aware of late ballots and voters with valid voting cards being turned away in six counties, saying in a statement it was “confident the National Elections Commission is doing all that it can to ensure registered voters are not disenfranchised”.

A spokeswoman with Mr Brumskine’s Liberty Party also contacted AFP to complain of “registered voters being turned away, NEC saying they are not registered,” in the counties of Margibi and Bassa.

If no candidate wins 50 per cent of the presidential vote, then the run-off of the top two contenders will be held on November 7.

Voters hold their voting card prior to casting their vote for Liberia's presidential and legislatives elections.

Voters hold their voting card prior to casting their vote for Liberia's presidential and legislatives elections, at a polling station in Monrovia on October 10, 2017. PHOTO | ISSOUF SANOGO | AFP

“We expect 2005 and 2011 to replay itself in 2017,” Mr Ibrahim Al-Bakri Nyei, Liberian political analyst at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, told AFP.

RUN-OFF

In both those previous elections Weah’s CDC party and Sirleaf’s Unity Party went into the run-off round of voting. Boakai has the backing of the Unity Party this year. Joe Pemagbi, an electoral observer for the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, said dialogue between the parties in the period before a possible second round was key to avoiding conflict.

“A lot more resources need to be put into civic and voter education, because that’s key to how people respond to some of these challenges,” including frustration over being unable to cast ballots, Pemagbi said.

“People should be pushing for peaceful dialogue and inter-party dialogue,” he added, saying it “is extremely important at this point in time”.

The US State Department hailed the vote as “an important step toward achieving Liberia’s first peaceful transfer of power from one democratically-elected head of state to another in decades”.

Back-to-back civil wars, the 2014-16 Ebola crisis and slumped commodity prices have left Liberia among the world’s poorest nations, while corruption remains entrenched.

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