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March 9, 2018

Sierra Leone election chief calls for ‘patience’ amid tension


March 9, 2018

FREETOWN: Sierra Leone’s election chief called for patience on Thursday as ballots from its general election are counted, with tensions high after a police raid on an opposition leader’s home.

More than 3.1 million Sierra Leoneans were eligible to cast their ballots for a new president, parliament and local councils on Wednesday, which passed without incident until polls closed. National Election Commission (NEC) Chairman Mohamed Conteh told media "we value accuracy above speed" speaking in Freetown.

"Please be patient and peaceful," he added. The NEC also confirmed one staff member was arrested in Waterloo, around 30 kilometres from Freetown, for pre-marking ballot papers.

Partial tallies are expected within 48 hours and complete results within two weeks. The Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) meanwhile raged against the police for surrounding a residence used by its candidate Julius Maada Bio on Wednesday evening and raiding it on allegations of election "hacking".

Sierra Leone has an entirely manual voting system, clouding understanding of the police’s motivations. "We view it as a mere distraction from what is happening outside in the field," said SLPP spokesman Lahai Lawrence Leema, alleging "intimidation".

"We will not accept any result that is rigged," Leema told journalists late on Wednesday. The party is expected to make a fresh statement later today on the incident. Bio is vying for the presidency with ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) candidate Samura Kamara and 14 others.

The APC and SLPP have dominated Sierra Leone’s politics since independence in 1961, but third parties are hoping to make their mark after mounting charismatic campaigns based on the two parties’ shortcomings. The export-dependent economy of the mineral-rich but impoverished country is in a dire state following the 2014-16 Ebola crisis and a commodity price slump that has driven away foreign investors. A presidential runoff is likely, according to experts, as the threshold to win outright in the first round is 55 percent.

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