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Opposition leader takes early lead in Sierra Leone presidential run-off elections

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The results of Saturday’s presidential run-off elections in Sierra Leone are being tallied, and early data indicated that opposition leader Ernest Bai Koroma of All People’s Congress (APC) was out front with 64 percent support. Vice President Solomon Berewa of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) had garnered 36 percent support, according to the country’s election commission.

However, only 18 percent of the polls had been tallied so far and the election commission pointed out that the early poll results came mainly from an area in western Sierra Leone having strong support for APC. It could take up to 12 days to count all the votes. For the results that have been tabulated, voter turnout has been determined to be approximately 73 percent.

The lead-up to the run-off election had been marred by reports of violence and, on election day, monitors had observed some irregularities such as ballot box stuffing and excessive voter registrations. However, most observers, both domestic and international, agreed that the elections were carried out in an orderly fashion.

On September 2, the two presidential candidates signed a communiqué, which outlined ten “matters of concern” to be dealt with “immediately”. The agreement laid out a framework for cooperation on issues such as security and a weapons ban. There was a declaration to condemn “all actions of intimidation, harassment and use of provocative language, physical violence directed at any person/persons or the malicious destruction of property for any reason.”

One group of election monitors from the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDIIA) expressed their satisfaction with the election process. “Despite heightened tension and several reported instances of election-related violence during the campaign period, the delegation considers that the overall electoral process was generally transparent and peaceful,” said NDIIA in a statement on September 10.

The September 8 run-off elections followed the first round of presidential and parliamentary elections held on August 11, which were the second held since 2002 after the end of the civil war. Opposition leader Koroma, 54, garnered 44 percent of the vote, while Berewa, 69, won 38 percent support. Should Koroma win ultimately, it would mark the APC’s return to power for the first time since it was overthrown in a 1992 coup.

In a statement following Saturday’s run-off elections, the spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed Mr. Ban’s support for the process. “The Secretary-General is pleased to note that the second round of the presidential election in Sierra Leone took place on September 8 in a generally orderly and peaceful atmosphere, in spite of the tensions and violence that marred the campaign period. The Secretary-General urges the political parties and people of Sierra Leone to exercise restraint as counting of the ballots proceeds and to resolve all arising disputes through the existing legal channels.”

Spokesman for the U.S. Department of State Sean McCormack relayed the sentiment of the administration. “The United States congratulates the Republic of Sierra Leone for the peaceful presidential run-off electoral process on September 8, 2007. We commend the independent National Electoral Commission, the Sierra Leone Police, and especially the people of Sierra Leone for the overall calm and sense of order shown as voters cast their ballots.”

The winning candidate will take over from current president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah who, by law, must step down after his current, second term in office.

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