Sierra Leone poll rivals squabble over results

Opposition leader Ernest Bai Koroma said he had won Sierra Leone’s presidential election but the ruling party accused him of trying to “steal” the poll as more results were due on Tuesday from the tense weekend vote.

Partial official results from just over a fifth of polling stations showed Koroma, of the All People’s Congress (APC) party, leading with 64%, ahead of Vice-President Solomon Berewa of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) at 36%.

“There’s no question of losing, it’s not possible,” Koroma told Reuters on Monday night, saying his campaign organisers predicted he would win with 55% of the vote.

But votes were still being counted from across the West African state after Saturday’s decisive run-off poll, seen as a test for the former British colony’s recovery from a 1991 to 2002 civil war, which was largely financed by illegal diamond mining.

Campaigning for the run-off was marred by clashes between rival supporters but the voting went ahead relatively peacefully, although foreign and local election monitors reported some cases of electoral fraud, including apparent ballot-stuffing.

Electoral authorities were due to release more results later on Tuesday. The early results came mainly from western Sierra Leone, an APC stronghold and full official results were expected to take several days.

Late on Monday, Koroma’s cheering supporters drove through the streets of the capital in pick-up trucks and decorated city statues with bandanas and T-shirts in the APC colours of red.

But Berewa’s SLPP refused to admit defeat.

“Let the opposition party leader wait until results are out. He is trying to steal victory.
We earn victory,” SLPP spokesperson Victor Reider said. He said his own party’s calculations showed Berewa winning, but he declined to say by how much.

Election officials appealed for calm.

The dispute over the early results raised some fears of a return to the violence which tarnished campaigning, when clashes prevented Koroma from touring the south and east, bastions of SLPP support. Whoever wins the polls will have to address the ethnic rifts revealed by the elections.

Berewa’s SLPP criticised a report made on Monday by the European Union observer mission, which noted irregularities in eastern and southern districts, all SLPP strongholds.

The EU mission said there were more votes than registered voters in some areas.

“The EU observers are fomenting a state of war and chaos by giving the impression that votes cast in the area of the SLPP stronghold were not genuine votes,” SLPP spokesperson Reider said.

Both candidates’ camps alleged fraud and intimidation during Saturday’s vote and each has already rejected results from certain areas they regard as biased towards the other.

Berewa has the backing of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who is standing down under the Constitution after two terms.

But his campaign was dealt a blow when Charles Margai, a scion of Sierra Leone’s foremost political dynasty who left the SLPP in 2006, backed Koroma after finishing third in the August 11 first round of voting.—Reuters

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