Monday, August 13, 2007

Sierra Leone elections 'free and fair

Sierra Leone's presidential and parliamentary polls were free, fair and credible, election observers have said.

A Sierra Leone voter holds up her voter registration card a

They said the ballot went smoothly and the presence of police gave confidence to voters. Preliminary official results are expected on Monday.

Presidential candidates need 55% of the vote in order to avoid a run-off.

The election is only the second since Sierra Leone emerged in 2001 from a decade-long civil war, during which an estimated 50,000 people were killed.

The previous poll in 2002 was organised by the United Nations, which still had peacekeepers on the ground.

This time, Sierra Leoneans were in charge.

The head of the national electoral commission, Christiana Thorpe, told the BBC that the election had proceeded very smoothly.

The EU's chief election observer, Marie-Anne Isler Beguin, said she was satisfied with how the election was conducted.

"Of course we have a good view now, a good picture of what happened and we at this moment can be satisfied with the global participation and the global organisation."

High turnout

The ballots are being counted in public - in full view of the party agents - in the country's 6,000 polling stations.

Correspondents say the large turnout was a sign of the population's determination to see Sierra Leone turn its back on years of instability and a civil war.

There had been tension in the run-up to the elections and some feared violence but the police reported no major incidents.

Seven presidential candidates are vying to replace Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who is stepping down after serving the maximum two terms.

Three are considered front-runners.

Mr Berewa, who is vice-president of the governing Sierra Leone People's Party, faces a challenge from Ernest Bai Koroma, of the All People's Congress, which was in power for two decades leading up to the civil war.

A new political party led by a former minister, Charles Margai, will also make it harder for any candidate to secure 55% of the vote in order to avoid a run-off next month.

In addition, more than 500 candidates are vying for just over 100 parliamentary seats.

About 2.6 million of the country's five million people were registered to vote. Final results are expected within 12 days.

BBC NEWS | Africa | S Leone elections 'free and fair