afrol News, 22 April - Liberia's popular President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who in January announced she would go for a second term, is set to meet strong challengers in the 2011 polls. But the main challenge will be voter registration.
Ms Sirleaf, Africa's first female president, has achieved great popularity abroad while Liberians are split on her political achievements. Many - probably a majority that can assure her re-election - hold Ms Sirleaf is the best leader Liberia can get. But others think progress has been too little and too slow.
As the November 2011 presidential polls approach, candidates to lead Liberia are stepping out. The incumbent was first, presenting her candidacy for re-election in the Monrovia parliament already in January, more than one year ahead of the poll. No potential candidate should doubt he would get a tough fight with Ms Ellen, the clear massage was.
The great question is whether the upcoming elections will be a repetition of the exiting 2005 polls, where Ms Sirleaf only was able to beat Liberia's greatest international star, soccer player George Weah, in a tight second round. Will Mr Weah, the only challenger known all over the country and tremendously popular, stand candidate in 2011?
The soccer star has given no indications he will. Mr Weah clearly supports the Liberian opposition, occasionally participating in their campaigns, but has so far rather expressed backing for other candidates.
The Liberian opposition is considering to flock around one of the many prominent politicians recently fired from Ms Sirleaf's cabinet. There is an open debate whether a new unity opposition party should be formed, enabling a more forceful challenge to the popular incumbent.
It therefore remains unclear who will be President Sirleaf's main opposition challenger. But Mr Weah seems to have decided to rather back the challenger than repeating his 2005 second place, maybe considering to emerge as the favourite when Ms Sirleaf's second term expires.
President Sirleaf and her government however are facing another great challenge in organising the 2011 polls in time. Liberia's National Electoral Commission is already indicating that preparations are being delayed by a legal turmoil in the Monrovia parliament.
To be able to define constituencies - a prerequisite to conduct a comprehensive voter registration - parliament needs to approve a controversial Threshold Bill. The bill, needing renewal, defines the minimum population of a constituency that is to elect one seat for parliament. Currently, the threshold is at 54,500 voters, but this could clash with the constitution, allowing a maximum of 100 seats in parliament.
The Threshold Bill has gone in and out of parliament for two years. President Sirleaf twice has vetoed the bill, citing political, legal and economic considerations. MPs are preparing a third version of the bill that hopefully would meet the standards demanded by the President and the National Electoral Commission.
The Commission's chairman James Fromayan says his works are paralysed before the bill is enacted. As the bill sets the basis for constituency demarcation, it must be in place before the Commission can register voters.
Not only Mr Fromayan is pessimistic about the timetable. Also the UN Envoy to Liberia, Ellen Margaret Løj, is concerned. Ms Løj this week went to government with her concerns, urging politicians to find a quick compromise. Preparations for "credible polls" were behind schedule, she complained, and Liberia needed both credible and scheduled elections to maintain stability.
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