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Sierra Leone's Election Commissioner Says Country is Ready for August Vote

Despite fears of pre-election violence and the possibility of vote rigging, Sierra Leone’s chief electoral commissioner says the country is ready for the August 11 presidential and parliamentary elections. This will be the country's second election since the end of 10 years of civil war in 2002 and the first without the supervision of the international community.

Christiana Thorpe, the chief electoral commissioner for Sierra Leone told VOA the August 11 poll is a make or break election for Sierra Leone.

“We are very much prepared. We are sending the polling stuff and receiving materials for the election. Voter registration was completed about four months ago, and we had about 91 percent turnout,” she said.

This will be Sierra Leone’s second election since the end of 10 years of civil war in 2002 and the first without the supervision of the international community. Thorpe said the August 11 polls are a test case for Sierra Leone

“I think it’s a break or make election because, as you say, it’s really our first post-war election. We really do not have all the facilities that were there at the last general election with the international community and U.N. troops there all over. Now we are dealing with the military and Sierra Leone police, and the Electoral Commission is really structured. So it is a test case for us, and I’m sure it’s going to go well,” she said.

Several reported instances of violence leading into the elections have sparked appeals from the United Nations and other organizations to political parties to reign in their supporters.

Thorpe said the Electoral Commission is working with political parties about how to minimize pre- or post-election violence.

“As of now, the campaigning is going on, and we are working on the issue of violence. Not just us, the police, the Political Parties Registration Commission, and we are meeting the party leaders and party supporters trying to discourage violence as much as possible,” Thorpe said.

She said whether there would be a runoff election or not would depend on the first round of balloting. But if there is a runoff election, she said it would take place two weeks after the first round, preferably the first week in September, as mandated by the constitution.

Thorpe rejected criticism by those who say taking two weeks to count first round ballots was too long, given that each polling station is expected to serve about 500 voters on election day.

“They are not in our shoes. We are here in the raining season. There are areas of the country that are almost inaccessible. You have to work for a whole day to get some of the polling stations, and the constitution does allow 14 days from the day of polling to giving out the results,” Thorpe said.

From Nigeria to Cameroon, it seems the losing party in some of Africa’s most recent elections have contested the results on grounds they were rigged by the party in power. But Thorpe said election errors are a human phenomenon.

“It’s people who are dealing with elections, so everywhere around the world there’s a possibility for rigging. What we can say is that to the best of our ability, we are trying to make elections as fair and credible and transparent as they could be,” she said.

Thorpe said she was disappointed by the small number of female candidates in the August 11 elections.

“I think we have about 56 female candidates out of a total of about 500. But we have to cope with that, and we hope that in the future there would more female candidates,” Thorpe said.

She said her commission was grateful to the international community and the Sierra Leone government for funding the elections.

“The government has one-third of the amount, about $10 million, and the international community about $18 million, and most of the funding has been received,” Thorpe said.