Friday, August 17, 2007

Sierra Leone Moves Toward Run-Off Elections

Sierra Leone may need run-off poll

Early results showed a run-off might be needed to choose the new president

People huddled around radios in shops and kiosks listening to initial returns

If no candidate wins more than 55 percent, a runoff will be held in September

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (Reuters) -- Sierra Leone counted votes on Sunday from its first elections since U.N. peacekeepers left two years ago and early results showed a run-off might be needed to choose the new president.

On the streets of the dilapidated capital Freetown, people huddled around radios in shops and kiosks as local networks broadcast initial returns from Saturday's presidential and parliamentary polls.

Voters turned out in huge numbers on Saturday for elections billed as a test of the West African country's stability after an 11-year civil war fueled by "blood diamonds" and infamous for its brutality.

Unofficial results showed Ernest Bai Koroma of the opposition All People's Congress (APC) comfortably ahead in Freetown and the north of the ex-British colony, which contain about half its 2.6 million voters.

With more than 5 percent of votes tallied, the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) candidate, 69-year-old Vice President Solomon Berewa, was performing more strongly in the south, populated by the Mende ethnic group.

The National Electoral Commission Chairperson Christiana Thorpe hailed the process as "credible and transparent" and said the first official returns would be announced on Monday.

If no presidential candidate wins more than 55 percent, a runoff will be held in September.

"It looks like we will definitely get into a runoff," said Ransford Wright, coordinator of the Independent Radio Network. "SLPP is not making headway in the north, even in the home town of their vice-presidential candidate."

Sierra Leone ranks second from bottom of the U.N. Human Development Index. The unemployment rate is about 60 percent and most people survive on less than a dollar a day.

Expectations of change, whoever wins, are huge.

"The war destabilized everything. We need freedom, food, water, electricity and jobs," said Mohamed Ba, sitting outside a wooden kiosk in downtown Freetown, radio in hand. "But I don't trust the politicians."

President Tejan Kabbah, re-elected on a wave of post-war euphoria in 2002, is stepping down as required by the constitution amid popular disillusionment at government graft, which many believe has drained away generous foreign aid.

Sierra Leone received $1.6 billion in debt relief last year, but still relies on donors for a third of its budget.

Foreign observers hailed the elections as a success and contrasted them with other West African polls tarnished by fraud, such as Nigeria's presidential ballot in April.

"We could see the enthusiasm of the people to go to vote, to participate in the change of this country," said EU mission chief Marie-Anne Isler who put turnout at around 70 percent.

Saturday's voting was peaceful. With results expected to trickle in from remote polling stations after heavy seasonal rains, observers expressed concern tensions could yet bubble over.

"These elections were free and fair but there is still a tense political atmosphere in Freetown," said Eoin Ryan, head of a delegation of European Parliament members, who said he would recommend an increase in EU aid in the wake of polls.

A second round could make a kingmaker of the PMDC leader Charles Margai, a scion of Sierra Leone's most famous political family who split acrimoniously last year from the SLPP, which his uncle founded.

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Alleged vote rigging: Diana Konomanyi protests

Friday 17 August 2007
By Sorie Sudan Sesay & Alimamy Adviser Sesay

The popular "Iron Lady" of the All People’s Congress Diana Konomanyi who contested the Parliamentary elections in Constituency 21 Kono District, has petitioned the outcome of the results which saw her losing by 126 votes to Emmanuel Tommy of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party.

Diana cited among others, voting irregularities, the bias of chiefs and multiple voting as responsible for her fate.

The outcome of the results was a big surprise for APC supporters who love and respect Diana for allegedly improving the chances of the APC in the Eastern Region.

Also, the results which saw the APC losing major seats in the Kono District surprised many because of the fact that the APC’s running mate and the spouse of its leader are all from Kono.

Kono is a major battle ground in Sierra Leonean elections and several campaign rallies were held there by all the political parties before the recent polls.Both the APC and the SLPP got thousands of votes in Kono but unoffcial sources say the SLPP clinched more parliamentary seats from that district.

The full text of Diana’s petition reads:
4, Komba Ngegba Street
Koidu/New Sembehun City
Tel: 033-744-807
16th August 2007

The District Returning Officer,
National electoral Commission,
80 Old Yengema Road,
Koidu Town,

Petition for a Recount of the Votes for the
Parliamentary\Elections for Constituency 21- Kono District

I am constrained to appeal to you to conduct a recount of the votes that were cast in respect of the Parliamentary Elections that were held on August 11, 2007 for Constituency 21, as I believe the several irregularities that took place during the voting and counting of the ballots must have influenced my losing the said election by 126 votes. My reasons for submitting this Petition are as follows:-

Multiple Voting By SLPP Supporters
1. That multiple voting by SLPP supporters took place in a number of voting centres, for example, a Mr. Titus Kandeh, SLPP Councillor for the Koidu/New Sembehun City Council, votes in two stations, namely 03033 and 03035. My polling agents eventually caught him and handed him over to NEC officials. The latter investigated the matter and having been satisfied that the said Titus Kande indeed voted more tham once, the NEC Elections Monitor, Mr. Mohamed Sesay, referred the matter to the Tankoro Police Station.

Another station where multiple voting took place was 03036. again, as a result of the vigilance of my Polling Agents, the under mentioned persons who voted twice at the above-mentioned polling station, were caught in the process:

(i) Elizabeth Koroma, 20 years of age
I.D Card Number 144920937

(ii)Finda Musa, 25 years of age
I.D Card Number 150016126

According to my Polling Agents, when they first voted, their fingers were not inked and their ID Cards were not punched. They came a second time and voted again. It was then they were detected and caught by my Polling Agents. Their voter I.D Cards were taken from them and handed over to the Police Officer, number 93056, Madam Quee, who was assigned to the station in question.

When I received the report about the aforementioned incident, I rushed to the station and enquired from the Presiding Officer, a Mr. Foray, who is a close relative of the SLPP Candidate for the Constituency where I contested as the A.P.C Candidate. Mr. Foray confirmed that indeed the two people mentioned above voted twice and described it as a mistake.

The counting of votes in most stations took place in an environment that was far from conducive for such an important and sensitive exercise. Suffice it to say that it was characterised by undue pressure from the Chiefs, SLPP supporters and lack of security. As a result, the counting of the ballots was done in haste which resulted in a lot of discrepancies.

Interference of Local Chiefs
2.There was also a lot of undue interference with the voting and counting of the ballots by the Local Chiefs in the Area.

For example, Chief Komba Gbondo of Koakoyima, an SLPP stalwart, who, prior to the elections, organized thugs and personally led them to intimidate people of Northern descent to flee Koidu Town, was allowed to enter Polling Station number 03029 immediately before counting started. This to me was wrong as he had no business in the Polling Station at that particular point in time. I strongly believe that he went to the station to stuff in some ballot papers before the commencement of counting.

Also, immediately after the close of polling, Paramount Chief Saquee walked into the Polling Station number 03038 at Manjamadu. Chief Saquee had no right to enter the polling station before the commencement of counting. I believe he too went to that polling station to perform some dubious act.

Other irregularities:
3. As stipulated by NEC, the Centre reconciliation form is to be posted at the Polling Centre. This procedure was not observed at Polling Station 03023 (Adrua Primary School). I therefore strongly believe that the Polling Centre Manager must have tampered with the results.

Some Temporal Evidence Envelope (TEE) were opened or sealed on the wrong TEE. I am therefore convinced that a lot of malpractices took place before they were delivered to the District Returning Officer.

I was also able to establish that some ballot boxes which contained the used ballot papers which were supposed to have been sealed after counting and reconciliation, were opened by polling staff.

Also, the seal numbers which were taken by party agents are no longer the seals that are currently used to seal the ballot boxes.

In view of the above-mentioned irregularities, I wish to humbly request for a recount of the ballot papers in respect of Constituency 21.

While awaiting to hear from you, I remain,
Yours Faithfully,
Finda Diana Konomanyi
(A.P.C Candidate, Constituency 21)

C.C.: The Chief Electoral Commissioner
The Regional Commissioner, East
The Chief U.N. Technical Adviser to NEC
Hon. Ernest Bai Koroma, Leader of A.P.C.
The Inspector General of Police
Mr. Emmanuel Tommy, candidate for S.L.P.P

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