Africa

Sierra Leone counts votes, both sides cry foul

Katrina Manson

Sierra Leone counted votes on Sunday from a tense presidential run-off which went peacefully despite fears of violence, but both sides accused the other of fraud and intimidation. Saturday's presidential run-off vote will pick a successor to President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who is standing down after two terms.

Sierra Leone counted votes on Sunday from a tense presidential run-off which went peacefully despite fears of violence, but both sides accused the other of fraud and intimidation.

Saturday’s presidential run-off vote, the culmination of polls seen as a key test of stability in the West African state after a 1991 to 2002 civil war, will pick a successor to President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who is standing down after two terms.

Kabbah has backed Vice-President Solomon Berewa, but early trends reported by local media gave a slight edge to opposition leader Ernest Bai Koroma of the All People’s Congress (APC) who won the August 11 first round and whose alliance will control the next Parliament.

“We have 5% to 10% of the vote in from our local reporters. So far the APC is leading,” said Ransford Wright of the Independent Radio Network, which links 20 local stations whose reporters collect results posted outside polling stations.

No official results were expected from the National Electoral Commission until Monday at the earliest.

Nevertheless, APC supporters celebrated after Saturday’s polls closed, dancing on street corners and chanting party anthems as they rode through the streets in trucks.

The party said that with more than 300 000 votes counted it had won 56%, but it was not clear which areas the votes came from or if they were representative.

The first round exposed regional and ethnic rifts between the pro-APC north and west—including the coastal capital Freetown—and the south and east, where Kabbah’s hitherto ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) is strong.

Complaints

Tensions spilled over into violence when Koroma ventured into traditional SLPP country to canvass votes, along with SLPP dissident Charles Margai, a southerner who came third in the August 11 vote and then threw his weight behind Koroma.

Observers said Saturday’s vote was mostly peaceful, but each side accused the other of harassment.

“We have reports that 40 to 50 of our polling agents were harassed, intimidated and taken out of polling stations,” SLPP national chairperson Alhaji Jah said.

“Ex-combatants for the APC have been very much participating actively and some of the police were not very impartial. Even so, piecemeal results are showing good signs that Solomon Berewa should be the next president,” he said.

The APC said there was widespread double-voting in the large southeastern town of Kenema, and said five of their agents had been kidnapped and attacked with machetes in the southern city of Bo, Sierra Leone’s second city and an SLPP stronghold.

“We are not accepting the results from Kailahun and Kenema,” APC spokesman Alpha Kanu said. “Our agents were not allowed access and our voters were hounded and chased out into the bush.”

Kailahun is in the eastern diamond mining area whose gems fuelled the 11-year civil war in which 50 000 people were killed; drug-crazed militia fighters, many just children, hacked hands, feet and other body parts off hundreds of people. The polls are the first since United Nations peacekeepers left two years ago. - Reuters

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