Tue, Apr 03, 2018 - Page 6 News List

West African bloc ‘satisfied’ with Sierra Leone vote

TOO CLOSE TO CALL:The election took place in a peaceful environment and the process was transparent and credible, an ECOWAS monitoring group leader said

AFP, FREETOWN

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Sunday said it is “satisfied” with Sierra Leone’s run-off presidential vote as vote counting continued, but noted intimidating levels of security at some polling stations.

The second-round vote pitted challenger Julius Maada Bio of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party, against the ruling All Peoples’ Congress (APC) candidate Samura Kamara, a close ally of outgoing Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma.

Bio came out narrowly ahead in the first round of voting last month, but the result of Saturday’s run-off election was not expected before yesterday or today, after all the votes from 11,000 polling stations are counted in the West African nation.

“We are on the view that the election took place in an environment that [was] peaceful, that the process was transparent and credible,” said Amos Sawyer, head of the monitoring group sent by the 15-nation ECOWAS.

The observation mission “is satisfied with the conduct” of the vote, though there were some “issues,” he added.

Bloc observers said that some polling stations opened late and also voiced concern at the “sometimes intimidating” deployment of armed security agents at voting centers that “caused panic among voters.”

The government had said that the tight security was to ensure a peaceful poll, but the opposition feared it could dissuade some supporters from turning out.

The election results would be tight, analysts have said.

Bio, 53, on Saturday said that the voting appeared peaceful and added he found the process to be “fair, transparent and credible.”

He was credited with 43.3 percent to 42.7 for Kamara — a margin of just 15,000 votes — after the March 7 first round in the West African country where political loyalties are often divided along ethnic lines, and traumatic memories of the 1991-to-2002 civil war run deep.

A total of 3.1 million people were registered to vote in the first presidential poll since a 2014-to-2016 Ebola outbreak that killed 4,000 people.

Also marring outgoing Koroma’s decade-long tenure was a mudslide that struck the capital, Freetown, last year, killing hundreds of people.

International observers — from the EU and the African Union as well as ECOWAS — were deployed throughout the country and were also monitoring the vote counting.

One of the world’s poorest nations, despite huge metals and diamond deposits, Sierra Leone is recovering only gradually from war and disease. Its economy remains in a fragile state, with widespread corruption.

An economist by training, Kamara, 66, was minister of foreign affairs until last year, when he stepped down to pursue the presidency under the APC flag, despite lacking strong party support.

He has promised to deliver improvements in health, education and infrastructure.

The key to victory lies with whoever wins Kono, a diamond-rich district in the east of the country generally regarded as a “swing state,” Abu said.

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