* Presidential rival says electoral body biased
* Party threatens to withdraw from run-off
* NEC head says vote to go ahead as planned
By Alphonso Toweh
MONROVIA, Oct 26 (Reuters)- Liberia’s presidential challenger said on Wednesday he may withdraw from next month’s run off vote against incumbent Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf unless the leadership of the national electoral body is sacked.
Former U.N. diplomat Winston Tubman has accused the National Election Commission of favouring Johnson-Sirleaf in the poll and of not taking his complaints of fraud in the Oct. 11 first round seriously enough.
A top official of Tubman’s CDC party told reporters earlier on Wednesday that the NEC was organising a “political circus” and said the party would not participate in the Nov. 8 second round unless the NEC’s leadership is replaced.
“We have put in preconditions that the NEC be restructured. We are not boycotting. We are confident that these preconditions will be met,” Tubman told Reuters by telephone.
“Discussions are ongoing with the international partners and political parties on this,” he added.
The threat could pose problems for the country’s first locally organised poll since its civil war, which will be seen as a bellwether of its progress since 14 years of on-and-off conflict ended in 2003.
The last poll was held in 2005 and foreign mining and oil firms are preparing to pour in billions of dollars to develop resources in the West African state.
Newly named Nobel peace laureate Johnson-Sirleaf won 44 percent of an Oct. 11 first round vote, while Tubman came in second with 33 percent, according to the NEC.
NEC Chairman James Fromayan told reporters on Wednesday the run-off would go ahead as planned.
“I am forging ahead with my work. I was not employed by CDC,” he said. “If I have done anything wrong, they should spell it out. (The NEC has) credible standing within the Liberian community.”
The CDC has alleged that at least three ballot boxes from the first round were opened illegally by NEC staff, and that there have been inconsistencies with some of the ballot count records. International election observers said the vote and the counting process was largely free and fair.
Johnson-Sirleaf became Africa’s first freely elected female head of state in U.N.-set elections in 2005, two years after the end of the war that killed nearly a quarter million people and devastated the country’s infrastructure.
She has won international praise for maintaining stability in Liberia since her election and for lowering the debt, but has been criticised by Liberians for not doing enough to ease rampant poverty and crime. (Additional reporting by Clair MacDougall; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by David Lewis)