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UN: Sierra Leone Elections 'Crucial Test' for Stability

  • Anne Look

Girls selling sweets watch from their makeshift kiosk - as other boys and girls their age [not pictured] attend school - amid great poverty, in the city of Makeni in Sierra Leone, April 20, 2012.
The United Nations envoy to Sierra Leone has called for upcoming elections to be peaceful and democratic. The envoy's statement Tuesday comes amid concern that the voting in November could spark violence, a decade after Sierra Leone emerged from civil war.

Sierra Leone's presidential, parliamentary and local elections will be what the United Nations calls a "crucial test" for the country as it continues to rebuild following a brutal civil war that ended in 2002.

The U.N. executive representative to Sierra Leone, Jens Toyberg-Frandzen, called on political actors to stick to their pledge, signed on May 18, to hold free, fair and peaceful elections.

"We continue to urge Sierra Leone's political parties and all major stakeholders to fully implement the commitments they have made under the declaration," said Toyberg-Frandzen. "Mr. President, providing an enabling security environment at all stages of the electoral process and in the immediate post-electoral period will be equally indispensable."

There have not been any reports of election-related violence so far. However, the U.N. expressed concern about rising tensions, and in particular intense competition between the two main political parties.

The Security Council announced Tuesday it would extend its peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone through March 2013.

Participants at Tuesday's meeting before the Security Council in New York said despite risks, the elections also are an opportunity to solidify peace.

Sierra Leone's permanent representative to the U.N., Shekou M. Touray urged continued vigilance to maintain the peace.

"As we commend all of us and relevant stakeholders for the gains made, some of which are quite irreversible, it is crucial that together we continue to tackle the remaining challenges in order to further advance and consolidate comprehensively our peace-building priorities," said Touray. "Key among these is the increasing need to address the economic, social and governance challenges to match the great expectations of Sierra Leoneans."

Current President Ernest Bai Koroma is seeking a second term in office. He has been praised for reinforcing stability and economic growth since his election in 2007. The president is expected to face stiff competition, however, from former military leader Julius Maada Bio.

Campaigning officially kicks off October 17.