Sierra Leone tense as more ballot recounts ordered
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Sierra Leone tense as more ballot recounts ordered

Posted KEMO CHAM in Freetown

on  Tuesday, March 13  2018 at  20:16

Life was Tuesday at a virtual standstill in Sierra Leone as the country anxiously awaited the presidential election results, six days after votes were cast.

With 75 per cent of the results already released, the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP)’s Brig (Rtd) Julius Maada Bio maintained a slender lead with 848, 438 (43.33 per cent) votes, ahead of Mr Samura Kamara of the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) with 833,519 (42.57 per cent).

Repeated promises by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to release the final 25 per cent results failed to materialise, with the commission blaming it on countless challenges from the political parties.

On Monday, NEC ordered a recount of ballots from 72 polling stations. It brought to 152 and representing about 2 per cent of the total of 11,122 stations where Sierra Leoneans cast their votes.

“NEC staff are working around the clock to finalise these results. Party agents have scrutinised our work over the last five days, and we have now agreed to a final set of recount,” NEC Chairman Mohamed Nfa Allie Conteh, said in a statement.

Widespread fraud

But smaller political parties were still demanding for more recounts, amidst allegations of widespread fraud.

The National Grand Coalition (NGC) and the Coalition of Change (C4C) were both calling for a nationwide recount. The two parties lamented how scores of their votes had been disregarded in multiple polling stations.

There were also concerns that many tallying machines rejected results, which the opposition blamed APC for.

Dr Julius Spencer, a spokesman of NGC, said returning officers were practically determining the results, with many of them filling in figures different from what they counted from the ballots. Many of the forms were not signed by polling agents, he said, stressing that to have a correct result, NEC might have to do a nationwide recount.

“We do not believe that what the NEC has announced reflects the will of the people. We have clear evidence of situations that show that the people’s vote did not reflect in the Results Reconciliation Forms (RRFs),” he said.

But with the delay comes the challenge of dealing with widespread speculations, which have further fuelled the tension.

On Tuesday, the streets of Freetown were deserted, with most people indoors, apparently waiting for the ultimate announcement.

For many business people, opening shops would be risky because often announcements of results were followed by clashes.

Remain calm

There were reports of several people injured when youths the police described as thieves attacked traders at a popular business district in Freetown and took away their wares. One person was reported dead, although the police have refuted that.

In the eastern Kono Distrcit, reports indicated that heavily armed police and military personnel were patrolling the streets following clashes between supporters of APC and SLPP.

Party leaders have been calling on their supporters to remain calm, with little success.

While many Sierra Leoneans want to put the elections behind them, indications were that that was unlikely soon.

Despite the insistence by both APC and SLPP in the last five days of a first round victory, every analysis points to the possibility of a run-off.