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Sierra Leone Vote Count Remains Close

As vote tallies continue to roll in for Sierra Leone's presidential and parliamentary elections, it appears more likely there will be a presidential runoff. The opposition All People's Congress is claiming victory in the parliamentary vote, even though the National Electoral Commission has released results for only a few of the 112 contested seats. Kari Barber has more from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

Officials of the All People's Congress, the party of opposition leader and presidential candidate Ernest Koroma, said Wednesday they had won a majority of the seats in parliament according to their own tally. Party officials say they will dispute the National Electoral Commission's results if they do not agree with the party's.

Final results for the presidential race are expected in the coming days. Election officials say a second round is looking likely as early results show a close race between Vice President Solomon Berewa of the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party and the APC's Koroma, with People's Movement for Democratic Change's Charles Margai in third. A candidate must win 55 percent to avoid a runoff.

President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah is prevented by term limits from seeking a third term.

All the parties have been waging a media battle, using party-run newspapers and radio to stir up support.

Carolyn Norris of the International Crisis Group says she considers all the talk, as long as it does not directly incite violence, as a part of the democratic process.

"So far it has been a battle of words between the various parties, and that seems to me a very a positive healthy aspect," she said.

The ruling SLPP has accused the opposition APC of using its radio broadcasts to send out out post-election hate messages, and is now testing its own radio station.

Norris said all parties will have to play an active role to ensure their supporters remain calm if a runoff is required.

"That will then be the point when there really is everything to win or to lose," she explained. "So the vigilance that we have seen in the first round of elections will have to be repeated, and I think it will be the responsibility of the major parties to call to check any of its members that consider other means to demonstrate their support for the party."

Ransford Wright of the Independent Radio Network has been tabulating non-official results from journalists around the country. Wright says the excitement surrounding the elections means the winner will be facing high expectations when he takes office.

"There are some changes in the democratic trend in the nation," he said, "and it is very important for anybody who emerges as the winner, as the president, to take note of that and ensure they deliver as they lead."

Final results for the presidential race are expected within 12 days after the vote, which was held Saturday. A runoff would likely be in September.

The elections were the first since thousands of U.N. peacekeepers who were stationed in Sierra Leone following the end of the nation's 11-year civil war departed in 2005.