Voting count continued Thursday in Sierra Leone with the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) party and the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) presidential candidates taking an early lead.
The results from the Wednesday landmark vote, as widely predicted, indicated a tight race between APC’s Dr Samura Kamara and Brig (Rtd) Julius Maada Bio of SLPP.
The provisional results were released by the Independent Radio Network (IRN), while the National Electoral Commission (NEC) was yet to give any official tally.
A total of 16 candidates are vying for the presidency.
The 3.7 million registered voters were also choosing members of parliament and local council officials.
Wednesday’s voting, despite starting on a peaceful note, was later dominated by reports of violence and confrontation between police and supporters of the opposition, which has accused the police and government of intimidation.
Police had to deal with riots pitching rival supporters of APC and SLPP at a polling centre in west end of Freetown where at least one person was hospitalised for stab injury.
There were also reports of electoral commission officials and the police preventing observers and reporters from monitoring the counting process.
It was the fifth General Election conducted since the West African country emerged from an 11-year civil war in 2002. It was also the first to have been conducted without the dominant involvement of the international community.
The voting was characterised by long queues, with enthusiastic citizens spending the night at the voting centres.
And according to the National Elections Watch, an independent poll monitoring entity comprising various local and international NGOs, 81 per cent of polling units were opened according to the official time stipulated.
On the eve of election day, outgoing President Ernest Bai Koroma appealed for peaceful conduct of citizens. He also promised to hand over power to whoever emerged winner, regardless of their political affiliation.
But SLPP say the incumbent party was bent on rigging the polls and vowed to resist any such move.
The vow followed a confrontation Wednesday afternoon between supporters of Brig Bio and the police outside his private residence in Freetown.
The police who surrounded the compound that also served as office for Brig Bio demanded to search it on suspicion of illegal activities.
They were acting on intelligence from the National Telecoms Commission which believed opposition operatives were bent on hacking the electoral system.
The police later withdrew their search warrant following an intervention by former Ghanaian President John Mahama, who is heading the Commonwealth Observer mission in the country.
Brig Bio’s campaign manager Allie Kabba, said the facility was being used to tally results as sent in by their 23,000 party agents. He said they were doing what any party would do, to ensure the process was credible.
SLPP also dismissed suggestion that it could hack into a system that is manual.
NEC also said its system was not hooked onto the internet and therefore could not be hacked.
An APC spokesman accused the SLPP of seeking to destabilise the country by confronting the police.
Mr Abdulai Bayraytay, who is all Presidential spokesman, said Brig Bio’s threat of summoning his supporters amounted to incitement.