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Sierra Leone elections: Vote tally begins amidst delays, relative calm

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Sierra Leoneans eagerly await the outcome of the fiercely fought elections as the electoral commission confirmed that the process of tallying votes had begun on Sunday. Despite significant delays in some areas, the overall conduct of the elections remained mostly calm.

On Saturday, Sierra Leoneans participated in presidential, parliamentary, and local elections, with numerous polling stations opening later than scheduled in the capital city. However, in other areas across the country, more than 90 percent of the polling stations had opened within an hour of the designated time, as reported by National Election Watch, a coalition of civil society organizations.

The election results are expected to be announced within approximately 48 hours of the completion of the voting process.

According to the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding, an observation group, and the electoral commission’s late afternoon statement, the voting was “relatively peaceful.” However, the electoral commission reported incidents where polling staff members were attacked by members of the public in certain areas while attempting to transport election materials after the polling stations closed. Senior members of the main opposition party, the All People’s Congress (APC), also alleged incidents of violence near several polling centers in Freetown on Saturday evening. Two members of international observer missions, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed one of the reported incidents.

Key players in the election include twelve male candidates and one female candidate vying for the presidency. The incumbent president, Julius Maada Bio, faces strong competition from Samura Kamara of the APC. Bio, representing the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), narrowly defeated Kamara in a runoff election held in 2018.

Rising food prices have emerged as a significant concern for many Sierra Leoneans in this import-dependent West African nation, which has a population of eight million people. Official figures indicate that year-on-year inflation reached 43 percent in April.

Approximately 3.4 million people were registered to vote in this election, with 52.4 percent of them being under 35 years old, according to the electoral commission. In order to secure a first-round victory, presidential candidates must obtain 55 percent of the valid votes. Voter turnout in the past three elections has ranged from 76 to 87 percent.

Aside from the presidential race, voters are also selecting members of parliament and local councils through a proportional representation system, following a last-minute change from the previous first-past-the-post system. In accordance with a recently enacted gender act, one-third of all candidates must be women. However, the introduction of an 11.9 percent vote threshold poses challenges for independent and minority parties seeking parliamentary seats.

Regional affiliations often play a significant role in the voting behavior of many Sierra Leoneans, with the belief that regions represented by politicians in power receive more job opportunities and benefits.

Several polls conducted ahead of the election indicate varying predictions for the outcome. A survey by the Institute for Governance Reform (IGR), a partner of the pan-African survey group Afrobarometer, forecasts a victory for President Bio with 56 percent of the vote, while Kamara is projected to receive 43 percent. Another poll conducted by the newspaper Sierra Eye and two local data groups predicts 38 percent for the incumbent president and 25 percent for his main challenger.

These elections are drawing considerable attention in West Africa, a region that has recently experienced political coups and instability.

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