Tue, Aug 14, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Sierra Leone's elections were fair, analysts say

FREE Voters came out in droves to peacefully cast ballots on Saturday to choose a new leader, but two candidates traded accusations of rigging


Sierra Leone's watershed presidential and legislative elections were free and fair, international observers said on Sunday despite allegations of violence and vote-rigging from the main parties.

A day after the first post-war Sierra Leonean-driven elections, seen as a test of whether the nation has fully emerged from its bloody civil war, Commonwealth and ECOWAS observers said the vote met international standards.

The EU's chief observer, Marie-Annie Isler Beguin, said "management of the polls was very good" but expressed concern that the country's political rivals might refuse to accept the results.

"We have to wait to see the reaction of the political parties," she said.

Voters came out in droves to peacefully cast ballots on Saturday to choose a new leader to succeed President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and a fresh set of lawmakers to fill the 112-seat parliament.

"The voting process ... was adequately free, peaceful and credible," said Seth Obeng, who is heading the observer mission of west African regional bloc known as ECOWAS.

But despite the praise from international observers, the two frontrunners in the vote -- the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) and the All People's Congress (APC) -- traded accusations of rigging and intimidation.

The SLPP said some of its members had been physically attacked but the party did not point the finger at its rivals.

"Personal attacks on party candidates, supporters as well as party functionaries has come to the attention of the party leadership with shock and total disbelief," SLPP spokesman Victor Rieder said.

APC secretary general Victor Foh said "we have evidence of rigging."

"If they twist the will of the people this country will recede into anarchy, warfare and degradation. They are scared sick of losing elections," Foh warned.

Partial official results had been expected Sunday but chief elections organizer Christiana Thorpe said returns had yet to be "processed" and gave no time when they might be announced.

Legally she has 12 days from the polling date to publish provisional results.

Commonwealth observer chief Kenny Anthony said he was "inclined to believe" that the vote was "in accordance with internationally accepted standards."

Sierra Leone's National Elections Watch (NEW), a coalition of more than 100 local civic and non-governmental organizations which fielded 5,400 observers to watch over the vote, agreed the poll was free and fair.

"The elections have been by all standards peaceful, free, fair and credible," NEW spokesman Ngola Katta told reporters.

Vice President Solomon Berewa of the SLPP is expected to face a stiff challenge for president from the APC's Ernest Koroma.

But neither is tipped to win the 55 percent absolute majority required to rule after the first round.

Early unofficial partial returns compiled by the country's Independent Radio Network showed the APC, the one-time sole ruling party, ahead of SLPP.

Complete preliminary results are expected by the end of the week.

Some 2.6 million voters out of the country's 5.5 million inhabitants were eligible to vote six years after the end of one of the deadliest civil wars in modern history, fueled by so-called blood diamonds.

The war claimed around 120,000 lives and hundreds of thousands of survivors suffered horrific abuse at the hands of rebels, who specialized in hacking off people's limbs with machetes.

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