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Sierra Leoneans Vote for President, Parliament


In Sierra Leone, turnout is high for presidential and parliamentary elections. These are the first elections since peacekeepers left Sierra Leone after more than ten years of civil war. Some are saying the vote is a test for democracy in the West African country. Naomi Schwarz has more for VOA from the capital, Freetown.

Ernest Koroma, the candidate for president from Sierra Leone's principal opposition party, the All People's Congress (APC), says the country is ready for a new government.

"I am confident. I believe that if the process is not manipulated, if the results are not manufactured, there is no way we will have a runoff," he said.

Seven candidates are running for president. If none gains at least 55 percent of the vote, a runoff election will be scheduled.

Observers say the real contest is between Koroma and Vice President Solomon Berewa, from the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) and that the vote may be close, requiring a runoff.

A third presidential candidate, Charles Margai, from a new party, the People's Movement for Democratic Change, is also expected to get a significant percentage of votes.

Voters are also choosing representatives for parliament.

"My name is Richard Gbondo J and I want to vote," said on voter.

Enthusiasm is high among voters. Many began lining up hours before the polls were scheduled to open.

Gbondo, 37, a soldier dressed in civilian clothes, says he arrived at four in the morning.

He says he does not want violence.

"No violence. Peaceful, patriotic, unique, in a gentle manner. Unique, gentle, intelligent manner. We vote. No quarrel, no brutality, no fight, no bad words. We go clean and clear into our polling booths," he added.

He says after voting, he will return to his garrison.

But long lines and confusion at some of the largest polling centers in Freetown have led to frustration.

At Wilberforce village, more than 3,000 voters were scheduled to vote at a primary and secondary school.

Voters were confused about which number on their ID cards would tell them which line to join.

Heavy rains in Freetown during the two days ahead of voting delayed the arrival of ballots both here and in other polling centers.

The ruling party's candidate, Vice President Berewa, was scheduled to vote at this center early in the morning. But chaotic conditions when he arrived led him to postpone his vote until the afternoon.

Election observers say the problems were mostly concentrated in the largest polling centers and not typical across the country. Marian Gabriel is an observer and political analyst with the European Union mission.

"We know that the megacenters are mainly in Freetown and outside of the Freetown area you have normally up to four polling stations per center so there are not so many problems," he explained.

Reports from outside Freetown say voting is peaceful, including in Bo, Sierra Leone's second largest city, the site of violence early in the campaign.

Observers have said fraud has not been a problem. But tensions are high, and voters are anxious that the vote be transparent, free, and fair. Sierra Leone, one of the world's poorest countries, is also ranked among the world's most corrupt.