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Sierra Leone Extends Voter Registration Deadline

Sierra Leone's National Electoral Commission has extended voter registration for May presidential and legislative elections until Sunday, February 10.

Sierra Leone national radio made the announcement just hours before the voter registration was due to end Thursday night.

The National Electoral Commission did not give any reasons for the extension, or the choice of new deadline. However, there have been many calls for more time to update the voting lists.

Local news reports indicate the deadline was extended to accommodate a sudden influx of new voters during the last few days. There were several delays due to technical problems soon after the start of the registration process, which began on January 24.

Hours before Sierra Leone's National Electoral Commission announced the extension, a local non-governmental organization released a report criticizing the process.

The Campaign for Good Governance cites cases in which offices were said to be unable to cope with the large number of people coming forward to register.

The report says in Kenema, in northwestern Sierra Leone, a single office has been expected to register a camp of 15,000 displaced people.

In some areas, according to the report, registration officials have been diluting indelible ink, and so reducing its chances of protecting against fraud. In other places, the Campaign for Good Governance said staff had failed to insist on all the documents needed for voter registration.

National Electoral Commission president, Walter Nicol, was quoted as saying he is "satisfied with the registration process."

A week ago, a dozen opposition parties delivered a petition to Sierra Leone's electoral commission calling for an extension of the registration period by at least 40 days.

The revision of the voting lists is aimed at paving the way for presidential and legislative elections on May 14.

Democratic elections are thought to be the next crucial step in Sierra Leone's ongoing peace process.

The long civil war was declared over last month after the disarmament of more than 47,000 rebel and government militia fighters by peacekeepers. About 200,000 people were killed in the 10 year conflict and thousands of others were mutilated, raped and tortured.

Different factions have already laid down their weapons in a disarmament process supervised by the United Nations.