Liberia was established in the early 1800s as a colony for free African Americans. The first arrived around 1820 and by 1847 the colony was large enough to have its first president and governor, Joseph Jenkins Roberts. In 1847 Roberts declared the colony free and independent and it was given the name of the Republic of Liberia.
Between 1847 and 1980 Liberia was ruled by a small group of African American colonists. They were never more than 5% of the total population in the country and they suppressed the rights of the indigenous population.
In 1980 a Liberian of the Krahn ethic group, Samuel Kanyon Doe organised a bloody coup in which the incumbent president William Richard Tolbert, Jr. and most of his Cabinet, along with a number of other followers, were murdered. Doe established the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) and between 1981 and 1985 put down seven coup attempts. The inevitable instability led to more violence, corruption and repression.
In 1985 multi-party elections were held but were deemed to be heavily rigged. Doe won the presidential election and his National Democratic Party of Liberia took 51 of the 64 seats in the House of Representatives.
Inevitably there was more violence and by the late 1980s Charles Taylor and his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) invaded from the Ivory Coast in 1989.
Doe was captured in November 1990, tortured and killed.
The war continued with various factions attempting to take control. In 1997 elections were held following international community intervention and Charles Taylor took 75.33% of the vote. His National Patriotic Party won 49 of the 64 House of Representatives seats.
Soon after fighting broke out again and it was only in 2003, following the intervention of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement that the various sides agreed to talk and a peace deal was signed.
A transitional government took the country into elections in 2005 when 23 candidates presented themselves and Ellen Sirleaf Johnson was elected the first woman president in Africa with 59.4% of the vote in a second round runoff. Her Unity Party came fourth with 8 seats in the House of Representatives, with the largest party being the Congress for Democratic Change of presidential runner up George Weah with 15 seats. Eleven parties were represented in the new parliament.
The President is elected by popular vote for a six-year term and is eligible for a second term.
The bicameral National Assembly consists of the the House of Representatives with 73 members (increased from 64 since the last election) who are elected to serve six-year terms and the Senate with 30 members who are now elected to serve nine-year terms. The first Senate election in 2005 established junior and senior senators, with the former elected for six years and the latter elected for nine years, in order to establish staggered elections.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Liberia at joint 90th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 37 (where 100 is least corrupt).