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Sierra Leone Ready for Presidential Runoffs


Sierra Leone's election officials say all preparations have been completed and the country is set for the presidential runoffs Saturday. Vice President Solomon Berewa will face opposition candidate Ernest Koroma in the second round of the nation's first presidential election since the withdrawal of U.N. troops in 2005. Kari Barber reports for VOA from Freetown.

National Electoral Commission spokeswoman Miatta French says all voting materials have arrived at voting centers around the country. She says there will be slight procedural changes from the first round.

"The inking instead of the forefinger is going to be done on the little finger this time, but most of the other procedures are the same," she said.

Finger prints are used to identify voters.

Also, in this round provisional results from the polling stations will be distributed to political parties as soon as they are available.

Saturday's runoff election pits Vice President Solomon Berewa against opposition leader Ernest Bai Koroma. Corruption and high unemployment were the key issues in the largely peaceful pre-election campaign.

Chris Fomonyoh with the National Democratic Institute is coordinating an international team of election monitors. He says letting the parties know what the early results are could be a double-edged sword, either easing tensions or inciting unrest.

"The availability of this information in the public domain would mean that things may move very quickly in terms of what the broad trends are, how the two candidates and parties have performed and who is going to win the runoff," he said.

In the last round, journalists themselves collected vote counts from polling stations around the country and published their tallies.

Fomunyoh says this provided a good system to prepare the voters for the official results. He says the critical point in the elections when violence could break out, will be the announcement of the winner.

"If the election commission meets its part of the bargain, and if the Sierra Leonean people meet their part of the bargain, then the parties and the candidates would have a civic responsibility to accept the outcome," he added.

The first round saw little violence, but tensions heated up in the second round as Vice President Berewa's Sierra Leone People's Party supporters clashed with Koroma's All People's Congress followers in several districts.

Sallieu Camara with civil society organization Network Movement for Justice and Development says the new president will face enormous challenges and will likely have to work without the international assistance Sierra Leone has been receiving since 2002.

"We cannot guarantee a continuity of this kind of support from the international community," said Camara. "So the new president will not actually be enjoying the kind of support that the outgoing government has been enjoying."

Analysts say public expectations are high for the new president, and the winner may need to

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