Joseph Boakai lost to George Weah in last elections in 2017. Photo: Reuters

Thousands of people gathered in Liberia's capital Monrovia on Sunday as opposition leader Joseph Boakai launched his campaign ahead of October elections that will test the popularity of ex-football star President George Weah after a chaotic first term.

Supporters of softly spoken Boakia, 78, who came second to Weah in 2017 elections and who has been dubbed "Sleepy Joe" by his critics for allegedly napping at public events, braved the rain at a stadium to dance, wave flags and demand change.

Present were some former Weah fans disillusioned by what they said was his failure to improve living standards or stamp out corruption in the West African country that has been hit this century by a civil war, a devastating Ebola outbreak, and downturns in commodities prices.

"We thought he (Weah) was going to bring the change he promised, but nothing," said businesswoman Martha Gould. "I need change for the better."

Turning the tide

Weah came to power on a wave of hope that the hugely popular former world soccer player of the year could improve things, despite his lack of political experience. He has since launched his reelection campaign promising to build on his record.

"During our first term, we laid the foundations for peace, freedom of speech, macroeconomic stability, and restoring confidence in the national educational system. I can guarantee that the years 2024 and beyond will be better for all Liberians," he said.

Still, it remains to be seen if Boakai and his Unity Party can turn the tide. Weah remains popular across much of the country, and the economy grew nearly 5% last year, driven by gains in agriculture and mining, the World Bank says.

TRT Afrika and agencies