MONROVIA, Liberia — Liberia’s provisional election results are expected Thursday, the election commission said Wednesday, as the West African nation waits to see who will succeed the Nobel Peace Prize winner who led the country’s recovery from Ebola and civil war.

A runoff election was widely expected with 20 candidates vying to replace Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president.

The National Election Commission said local vote counting had ended after a largely smooth election. It apologized for delays in some areas and said it had quarantined materials from one precinct and will investigate reports of alleged compromised voting.

Former soccer star George Weah, Vice President Joseph Boakai, former rebel leader Prince Johnson and former Coca-Cola vice president Alexander Cummings were leading in various parts of the country, local media reported.

A presidential candidate must win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a second round. Final results should be known within two weeks. A runoff election, if needed, would come two weeks after that announcement.

International observers said Tuesday’s vote went smoothly despite late starts in some counties. More than 2.1 million voters had registered to vote throughout Liberia, established by the United States in the 19th century for freed black slaves.

The United States called the election “an important step toward achieving Liberia’s first peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected head of state to another in decades.”

Sirleaf will step aside after two six-year terms in office. She led the country’s recovery from a 14-year civil war and guided it through the Ebola crisis in 2014-15 that killed nearly 5,000 Liberians.

Voters commended her leadership but said they were ready for change.

The election turnout was impressive, especially among younger generations, said Christopher Fomunyoh of the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute, which was monitoring the elections.

“All of these people are saying they want change and improvement, and that explains why almost all of the candidates are presenting themselves as candidates for change,” Fomunyoh said.


Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal.