MONROVIA, Liberia — George Weah, the former soccer player known as the scorer of one of the greatest goals of all time, has won the Liberian presidency, provisional results show, setting the stage for the country’s first peaceful democratic transition of power.
It was Mr. Weah’s third effort to lead this nation founded two centuries ago by freed American blacks. He defeated Vice President Joseph Boakai, best-known for a curious falling-out with the president under whom he served for 12 years, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first democratically elected female president.
In the weeks leading up to the runoff presidential election on Tuesday, Mr. Boakai accused Mrs. Sirleaf of secretly orchestrating his defeat. The vice president went all the way to the Liberian Supreme Court with his charges, and managed to delay the final runoff election by two months.
The runoff, originally set for October, was finally scheduled for the day after Christmas.
That is a day when many voters might be expected to be recuperating at home after the holiday — and the result was as many people expected. Voter turnout was low. It was a last-gasp effort by the vice president’s forces to save him from defeat, critics in Monrovia said. But in the end it did not work.
Liberia’s National Elections Commission announced on Thursday that Mr. Weah, with more than 90 percent of votes counted, was beating Mr. Boakai handily. Mr. Weah had 61.5 percent of the more than one million votes tallied, while Mr. Boakai had 38.5 percent, the commission announced.
The elections commission stopped short of declaring Mr. Weah the outright winner at a news conference on Thursday, with officials saying they would have final results soon. But at Mr. Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change Party headquarters, hundreds of people with crackling radios held to their ears erupted over the results.
In Gibraltar, the Monrovia neighborhood where Mr. Weah grew up, residents on Thursday spoke about how their slum was now a “president’s community.”
“People can classify our community, saying that’s so-so gronah people living here, and today this community is coming to produce a president,” said Veronica Doe, 46, using a Liberian-English reference to street boys.
Ms. Doe, a mother of seven, said she had played kickball on the same dusty soccer field as Mr. Weah in the 1980s. Now she sells small plastic bags of water out of a cooler, one of the thousands of market women who drive the local economy.
Next to her stall, a narrow alleyway edged by concertina wire led to the modest house where Mr. Weah was raised by his grandmother, which is now occupied by other tenants. Women sold charcoal, biscuits and bread on the stoop and children ran around.
Mr. Weah’s is a rags-to-riches story. He emerged from the slums of Gibraltar with an uncanny ability to buck and weave behind a soccer ball all the way up the pitch, and eventually gained fame as a world-class striker for the Italian team A.C. Milan. He won the football world’s greatest individual honor, the Ballon d’Or, and was named by FIFA as the African Player of the Century.
He never got to compete in the World Cup, because Liberia was engulfed by civil war, instigated by President Charles Taylor, during the height of Mr. Weah’s soccer years and unable to muster up 10 other players good enough to qualify.
Mr. Taylor is now locked up in a British prison for war crimes. But in the surreal world of Liberian politics, Mr. Weah’s running mate, who will now presumably be his vice president, was Mr. Taylor’s ex-wife, Jewel Howard Taylor.
Ms. Taylor caused a stir early in the election campaign when she told reporters that although her ex-husband was no longer involved in Liberian politics, he still had promises that needed to be kept. She called for putting Mr. Taylor’s agenda “back on the table.”
The resulting uproar led Mr. Weah’s party to put muzzle Ms. Taylor, and she became more circumspect on the campaign trail.
Mr. Weah’s own behavior during this election converted many former skeptics. In his first two campaigns, which he lost to Mrs. Sirleaf, Mr. Weah’s youthful supporters were criticized for threatening their opponents with violence. Many young men who supported him went through the streets of Monrovia, chanting “No Weah, No Peace,” and getting into fights.
For 43 days in 2005, Mr. Weah himself protested Mrs. Sirleaf’s election. It was only under heavy pressure from the international community and local authorities, who dismissed his allegations of fraud, that he finally accepted those election results to “allow peace,” he said, in Liberia.
This time around, with Mr. Boakai claiming fraud about Mr. Weah’s lead in the polls, the candidate took the high road. His youthful supporters stayed off the streets. Even when the runoff election was delayed by Mr. Boakai’s complaints, Mr. Weah’s supporters stuck with the electoral process.
On Thursday, they were reaping the rewards. Richard M. Nahas, 20, a Weah supporter, said he had high expectations of Mr. Weah.
“I want him to bring job opportunities and to build the economy of the country — that’s the main thing now we need,” said Mr. Nahas, dressed in a yellow Cameroon national team soccer jersey.