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Sierra Leone's Election Campaign Ends Amid Fears of Vote Tampering

In Sierra Leone, on the last day of campaigning, voters and observers are expressing concern that tampering, violence, and poor weather will mar presidential and parliamentary elections set for Saturday. These are the first elections in Sierra Leone since peacekeepers left and also the first presidential election without an incumbent in the race. Naomi Schwarz has more for VOA from Freetown.

A rainy Thursday in Freetown highlights one of the main concerns in the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.

Kristiana Thorpe is the chairwoman of the National Electoral Commission.

""The main challenge has been the weather so far," she said.

August marks the height of the rainy season in this impoverished West African country. Inland, the rains can be heavier and more frequent than in the coastal capital. Voters in rural areas have to travel across washed out and rutted mud trails, sometimes for miles on foot, to reach polling stations. Election officials will have to travel the same roads to deliver ballots and, after the vote, official tallies.

Voters will chose Saturday from among seven presidential candidates, including 69-year-old Vice President Solomon Berewa. They will also be picking 112 members of parliament from among more than 570 candidates.

In addition to poor weather voters are also expressing concern about the potential for violence and fraud at the polls.

Lamin Lappia is a farmer from Sembehun, a small village in a diamond-rich region. Many homes and other buildings in the village were destroyed by rebels during the country's decade-plus civil war and have yet to be rebuilt. Many villagers were killed.

Lappia says he does not care who wins, as long as there is no fighting.

"I want peace. Whether Brown, Joseph, whosoever got points to rule this nation, that is the person I want," he said. "Not because of what the people are talking, that is not what I am looking at."

Lappia says that, during the civil war, he fled the violence several times and he does not want to run away again.

The final rallies of the three major political parties, held on consecutive days in the capital, have been raucous but peaceful.

Analysts say this is reassuring. But they say if voters suspect tampering with the results, that could spark hostilities.

The National Electoral Commission, civil society groups and journalists have implemented several initiatives to combat tampering and reassure the public.

Thousands of independent observers and many more representing political parties will fan out across the country. Several hundred journalists will report on local radio stations throughout election day.

To prevent tampering, vote counting will begin immediately after polls close, and tallies will be transported in sealed envelopes.

Despite their concerns, Sierra Leoneans, after years of single party rule and a brutal civil war, seem excited to exercise their democratic rights.