Opposition leaders in Sierra Leone have alleged poll fraud in the country’s presidential, parliamentary and local elections, even as international observers have hailed the process as being well-organised and peaceful.
The National Electoral Commission is still tallying the results of Saturday’s elections, seen as a test of the west African nation’s recovery from a brutal civil war which ended in 2002.
“I am concerned an undue delay in results being announced could risk conflict in a society where rumour plays a big role“
– Richard Howitt,
Unofficial results have begun to trickle in on local media, and observers have urged that the outcome be ratified as quickly as possible. It is due on Saturday.
“A lot of people have said they are very concerned about reactions as results become known and that could be a flashpoint in terms of potential conflict between rival groups of supporters,” Richard Howitt, the chief observer of the 100-strong European Union observer mission, said.
“I am concerned an undue delay in results being announced could risk conflict in a society where rumour plays a big role.”
On Monday the observer mission released its preliminary report praising a “peaceful and well-conducted election”.
Main opposition presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio – the main rival to incumbent Ernest Koroma – said his party had evidence of “rampant ballot stuffing”.
The 48-year-old retired brigadier, who served a brief stint as military ruler in 1996, urged his supporters to remain calm, pledging that “no one steals the mandate of our voters or alters the results to our disadvantage.
“As things stand now we are very confident of winning the elections,” he added.
The winner must garner 55 per cent of the ballots cast, or he will face his opponent in a second round runoff.
‘Peaceful and orderly’
The ruling All People’s Congress (APC) hit back in a statement, calling the claims of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) “fabricated and baseless”.
|The National Electoral Commission is still tallying the results of Saturday’s elections [AFP]|
“The party wishes to make it abundantly clear that it was not in any way involved in ballot stuffing. The only reported case of ballot stuffing was related to an SLPP partisan who has since been arrested.”
The Carter Center observer mission said the elections had met “benchmarks for a free and transparent” poll.
A Commonwealth observer mission said the polls were “peaceful and orderly”.
All observer missions, however, also criticised the process for allowing the use of state resources for campaigning, creating an unequal playing field. They said that there was inadequate voter education, and that there was a lack of gender equality in the electoral lists.
Miatra French of the electoral commission said difficult terrain in rural parts of the country was posing a challenge to tallying efforts but that most results had arrived at regional headquarters.
“As soon as we finish the process we will release the results,” she said.
Leonard Koroma, the APC campaign co-ordinator, told AFP that “if the result is in our favour there would be no abuse or violence. In case we lose, we will also accept the result”.
Previous elections in 2002 and 2007 were marred by pockets of violence.
The 2007 election, however, saw a peaceful transfer of power between the opposition and ruling party when Koroma won in a second round.