Sierra Leoneans turned out in reasonable numbers at polling stations on Wednesday to elect their country’s new president, members of parliament and local councils in the fourth cycle of elections since the civil war in 2002.
“A slow start is noticeable, but the key point is that the process is peaceful and orderly,” said Prof. Amos Sawyer, Head of ECOWAS’ 65-member Observation Mission, after visiting several polling stations in Freetown’s Western Urban in company of the ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affair, Peace and Security Gen. Francis Behanzin, leading the ECOWAS Commission’s Technical Support Team for the Mission.
Voting is officially from 7am to 5 pm, and by 6.45 am, when the ECOWAS Observation team arrived at the Lumley High School Polling Centre with 11 polling stations scores of voters were already on the queues waiting to cast their ballots.
Persons with disability, women and the elderly were not left out. Fifty-six-year-old Abdulai Koroma, a visually-challenged voter assisted by his friend Kamara, was among the early voters at the Lumley polling centre.
The slow start situation was similar at Cockerill Preparatory School centre in Willington Bye-Pass, which has six stations, with more than 11 voters having cast their ballots at polling station one by 8 am.
Prof. Sawyer particularly praised the enthusiasm of the voters and expressed optimism that the process would pick up to allow all eligible voters exercise their civic duty for the consolidation of stability and democracy in the country and the region.
Commissioner Behanzin, echoed his sentiments, noting that the process had started well and was expected to improve during the day.
One challenge reported by international observers, especially in the urban towns such as Freetown, Bo and Kenema, is the difficulty of some voters in accessing their polling stations due to the official restriction on vehicular movement. Only accredited vehicles are allowed movement on voting day and the restriction was challenged at the High Court, which gave its approval this week.
Meanwhile, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) Sierra Leone’s Director of Administration and Logistics Abubakar Koroma, confirmed the transport challenge, assuring that the authorities were consulting to proffer solutions so as not to disenfranchise eligible voters.
NEC registered some 3.17 million voters to cast their ballots in 11,122 polling stations across Sierra Leone’s 16 Administration Districts. Sixteen candidates, including two women are vying to replace outgoing President Ernest Bai Koroma, who has served two mandates of 10 years.
More than 750 other candidates are contesting for the 144-seat Parliament in the elections, the first time that Sierra Leone authorities are taking full charge of the electoral process following the departure of the UN Mission