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Election Officials Concerned about Voter Apathy in Sierra Leone Presidential Runoff


Sierra Leone electoral officials say there is concern that voters will not turn out in large number for Saturday's presidential runoff like they did in the first round, which saw a voter participation rate of about 75 percent. They say many people do not understand what a runoff is and why it is necessary. Kari Barber reports for VOA from Freetown.

Issa Turay works doing odd jobs on a busy street in Freetown. He says he is not happy that the election has gone to a runoff, but that he will vote anyway.

"They say it will be a runoff, so we have no solution. Unless we go with the runoff they talk about."

Turay says he will vote for opposition candidate Ernest Koroma of the All People's Congress.

However, he says he does not understand why Vice President Solomon Berewa of the Sierra Leone People's Party did not give up after he trailed Koroma 38 percent to 44 percent in the first round.

By Sierra Leone law, a candidate must win the first round with 55 percent to avoid a runoff.

National Electoral Commission spokeswoman Miatta French says she is worried this kind of confusion about the electoral process will keep other voters from the polls on Saturday.

"There could be problems with voter apathy in terms of information," said French. "The last elections we did not have runoffs, so people really do not understand the concept."

"A lot of people are voting for the first time so that is another stage that we need to explain to them so they understand why they need to vote. It is not easy convincing them why they need to vote for a second time," she added.

French says the electoral commission has been busy trying to inform and explain to the public what is happening. But, she says with only two weeks between the announcement of the runoff and the event, time is tight and the commission has a lot to do to get everything in place for Saturday's vote.

"We are doing a lot of material delivery now," said French. "A lot of the materials have gone up to the district offices, but then they have to move from the districts into the constituencies and that in itself is a challenge because of the roads and the weather. That in one thing that is very heavy that we are going to be doing in the next few days."

French says the commission has been working with civil society distributing voter information to help people know where they should vote, how to vote and why.

The election is the first since the withdrawal of U.N. troops in 2005 and only the second since the end of the nation's decade-long civil war. President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah will be stepping down after serving the maximum two terms allowed by law.

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