Liberia’s ruling party said on Sunday it had expelled outgoing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for not backing her vice-president, Joseph Boakai, in a presidential election run-off lost to former footballer George Weah.
Sirleaf, 79, will formally hand over power to Weah on January 22 after serving two six-year terms, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner having made history in 2005 when she became Africa’s first elected female leader.
“The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Unity Party has voted to expel” Sirleaf, the party said in a statement.
“The vote was taken as a result of several violations of the party’s constitution and other acts inimical to the existence and reputation of the party,” it added, noting that the party’s constitution clearly provides for “support (of) the Unity Party’s candidate through campaigning for the election.”
Weah, a senator who made his name as a soccer star primarily with AC Milan and won a FIFA World Player of the Year title, saw off Boakai, winning 61.5 percent of the vote, with Sirleaf not offering public backing to either candidate.
Boakai had been seen as Sirleaf’s natural successor having stood on her ticket through two successful campaigns. In the campaign just ended, however, she did not appear on a platform with him.
Political commentators have suggested it was Boakai who chose to put some distance between himself and the outgoing administration, which has been the repeated subject of claims of corruption and nepotism.
The Unity Party said it had been careful to take the time to establish that the party constitution had been violated in the failure to back its candidate which “constitutes sabotage and undermined the existence of the party”.
Sirleaf guided the nation out of ruin following back-to-back 1989-2003 civil wars and through the horrors of the 2014-16 Ebola crisis, but has been accused of failing to combat widespread poverty and tackle corruption.
Her handover to Weah will nonetheless mark Liberia’s first democratic transition since 1944.