MONROVIA, Liberia – Vice President Moses Blah (search), the man picked by President Charles Taylor (search) to succeed him, was a feared general in Taylor's faction during Liberia's last 1989-96 civil war.
Blah, 56, trained with Taylor in Libya for three years during the late 1980s and was among the first 200 forces who crossed from neighboring Ivory Coast to launch the uprising against then-President Samuel Doe (search).
The war killed more than 100,000 Liberians, and left the country in ruin.
Last month, Blah was arrested for 10 days on charges of conspiring with Americans to overthrow Taylor. But he puts the incident down to a misunderstanding.
Liberian lawmakers on Thursday formally approved Taylor's decision to step down, paving the way for a promised handover of power next week.
Taylor had been expected to address Congress, but instead sent a letter notifying them of his decision to turn over the country to the vice president on Monday.
Ahead of the decision, Blah said Taylor had not told him whom he would choose -- but Blah said that under the constitution, the job should pass to him.
Officially, House Speaker Nyundueh Monkomana (search), the second in line, agreed.
Blah, despite his fearsome reputation, is a quiet, unassuming man in flowing African robes who drives himself around Monrovia in a Jeep, in contrast to the flashy motorcades of other government officials.
A mechanic by training, he has traveled extensively, first as a student in Germany, later as emissary for Taylor's movement, and finally as Liberia's ambassador to Libya and Tunisia.
A signed photograph of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi hangs among snapshots of his wife and 10 children in the reception room of his rambling house, still under construction amid green marshes on the eastern outskirts of Monrovia.
He insists he has no political aspirations and expresses nostalgia for his army days when he was "very close to the action." If he gets the job, he says he will reach out to Liberia's current and former rebels living in exile.
"Let bygones be bygones," he said. "If there is power, we can share it."
Representatives and Senators, meeting behind closed doors, endorsed the decision by Taylor to name Blah -- a necessary step under Liberia's constitution before Taylor relinquishes power -- said House Speaker Monkomana, who announced the decision.
Taylor, beset by rebels and indicted for war crimes, faces mounting international pressure to leave the country. He has accepted an offer of asylum in Nigeria, but has set no date for his departure.
Both Blah and Monkomana have been described as old friends of Taylor.
Monkomana, 55, met Taylor as a student in the 1970s in the United States. Both were active in Liberian exile politics, and when Taylor launched his uprising, Monkomana joined his parallel government, first as a county representative and later as labor minister.
While he never fought in the war, when it was over, he briefly served as chairman of Taylor's political party, before running for the legislature.
Besides having key support among Taylor's military, Blah is stronger politically than Monkomana, whose reputation has suffered through allegations of corruption.
Two years ago, Monkomana resigned over accusations he lied about graduating from New York's Columbia University in 1975. But the House reinstated him.
Liberia's main rebel group has rejected both candidates and demanded that a neutral figure replace Taylor to oversee a transitional government.