A runoff vote also due on Tuesday was supposed to represent Liberia’s only democratic transfer of power in seven decades, securing Sirleaf’s legacy as she steps down after 12 years, but the process has now been indefinitely delayed.
“At this moment our democracy is under assault. Our country’s reputation is under assault,” Sirleaf said in an address read out on public radio, which follows a Supreme Court ruling halting the scheduled runoff vote until the complaint backed by four political parties is resolved.
“Allegations, hate speech, and backward language have been defining what should be a proud moment in our history,” she added, using terms similar to those deployed by her information minister on Friday against candidates who have said Sirleaf interfered in the election herself.
That includes her own Vice President and would-be successor Joseph Boakai, whose extraordinary feud with Sirleaf has recently broken out into the open.
Commentators expect the vote to be delayed for days or even weeks as the electoral commission deals with their grievances, a process that must be completed before the runoff can go ahead, by order of the Supreme Court.
The runoff between Boakai and George Weah was triggered after no single candidate gained more than 50% of votes in an October 10 first round election that was hailed as free and fair by international and domestic observers, despite some recorded delays.
Meanwhile, four parties which back the fraud complaint lodged by third-placing candidate Charles Brumskine on Tuesday discussed a “merger” to bolster Boakai in his fight against former international football star Weah for Liberia’s presidency.
Robert Kpadeh, chairman of the ruling Unity Party, said the talks would discuss “a merger that is getting stronger and is poised to take many dimensions”.
“What you see today is a strong signal to the world that they are coming together to fight for democracy,” Kpadeh said.
“We strongly believe that Weah cannot run this country.”
Brumskine lodged a complaint of “gross fraud and irregularities” at the National Elections Commission (NEC) on October 23, alleging ballot stuffing and fraudulent voter cards marred the October 10 vote.
On Tuesday evening Weah called on his supporters to remain peaceful while the complaints process goes ahead, speaking to supporters at his headquarters.
“They used to say that we CDC (Weah’s party) are hooligans, we are troublemakers, and in 2017 we know who the real troublemakers are,” Weah told the crowd.
“We are aware of all their tactics, all of their provocations, we will not allow ourselves to be distracted,” he added.
The Carter Center, an organisation founded by former US president Jimmy Carter to promote democracy which has sent observers to Liberia, cautioned that the risk of tensions would spike the longer the delay lasted.
“As the public becomes aware of the implications of (Monday’s) ruling and the further delays in the electoral calendar that it will cause, the potential for unrest increases,” it said in an emailed statement, AP reports.