Monday, September 17, 2007

Sierra Leone opposition celebrate win

Opposition supporters bedecked in red have been out on the streets of the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, as they celebrate their election victory.

All People's Congress leader Ernest Bai Koroma won 54.6% of the vote in the presidential run-off.

His rival, Vice-President Solomon Berewa of the governing Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) obtained 45.4%.

The national election commission said that flaws in the vote were not enough to invalidate the result.

Street celebrations in Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown

A spokesman for Mr Koroma's party said both Mr Berewa and the outgoing president, Ahamd Tejan Kabbah, had already called to congratulate the winner.

The national electoral commission was asked to investigate reports of suspect ballots at 14 polling stations, where the turnout was reported as 100% or more, compared to a national average of 68%.

Amid such concerns the SLPP sought an injunction to try to stop the publication of any further results.

But by the time the High Court looked at the application and deemed it required resubmission, the result had already been announced.

In any event, the electoral commission had pointed out that most, though not all, of the suspect results were in SLPP strongholds.

President in waiting

Ernest Bai Koroma is an insurance broker who says he wants to run the country like a business concern.

He polled well in the predominantly Muslim north of the country and in the capital.

But he also made inroads into his opponents' traditional heartland in the ethnic Mende south.

Sierra Leone is gradually rebuilding after a decade-long diamond-fuelled war but remains one of the world's poorest countries where mass unemployment could still lead to instability.

The 54-year-old APC leader ran a slick campaign - calling for change.

Opponents say his party mismanaged the country for two decades leading up to the war but such criticisms were not enough to deflect an electorate seeking a change.

His rival for the presidency, Solomon Ekuma Berewa, had been a surprise choice - named as the SLPP candidate by the incumbent President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah at a time when he was not even a card-carrying member of the party.

As Attorney General, Mr Berewa helped negotiate an end to Sierra Leone's civil war and though a veteran 69 years old, his reputation as a workaholic convinced many he had the stamina for the top job.

But observers say high levels of corruption prevented the governing SLPP from delivering basic public services and this fatally damaged his campaign.

BBC NEWS | Africa | S Leone opposition celebrate win