- Title: SIERRA LEONE: Early Sierra Leone election results point to run-off
- Date: 17th August 2007
- Summary: (AD1) FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE (AUGUST 11, 2007) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF PEOPLE STANDING IN QUEUE OUTSIDE POLLING STATION
- Embargoed: 1st September 2007 13:00
- Location: Sierra Leone
- Country: Sierra Leone
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVABX0YCXOJ7VKQK6FK7GLUBTG5D
- Story Text: Early Sierra Leone results point to run-off in election that was hailed by both foreign observers and Freetown residents a success.
Sierra Leone counted votes on Sunday (August 12) from its first elections since U.N. peacekeepers left two years ago. Early results showed a run-off might be needed to choose the new president.
On the streets of the dilapidated capital Freetown, people hurried to read early newspapers on Monday (August 13), as local radio networks broadcast initial returns from Saturday's (August 11) presidential and parliamentary polls.
Voters turned out in huge numbers on Saturday for elections billed as a test of the West African country's stability after an 11-year civil war fuelled by "blood diamonds" and infamous for its brutality.
''It's for my right, that is why I came to vote, for the future of my children, so that I when I have children I know they will not suffer,'' said Zainab Koroma, a housewife from Freetown.
As National Electoral Commission (NEC) Officials starting the corroboration of data gathered from polling stations around the country, unofficial results showed Ernest Bai Koroma of the opposition All People's Congress (APC) comfortably ahead in Freetown and the north of the ex-British colony, which contain about half its 2.6 million voters.
With more than five percent of votes tallied, the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) candidate, 69-year-old Vice President Solomon Berewa, was performing more strongly in the south, populated by the Mende ethnic group.
The NEC hailed the process as "credible and transparent" and said the first official returns would be announced on Monday.
If no presidential candidate wins more than 55 percent, a run-off will be held in September.
Foreign observers hailed the elections as a success and contrasted them with other West African polls tarnished by fraud, such as Nigeria's presidential ballot in April.
"We at this moment can be satisfied with the global participation and the global organisation," the chief European Union (EU) observer Marie-Anne Isler Beguin said, referring to Saturday's polls.
Sierra Leone ranks second from bottom of the U.N. Human Development Index. The unemployment rate is about 60 percent and most people survive on less than a dollar a day.
Expectations of change, whoever wins, are huge, and Sierra Leoneans are proud of their country's performance in this electoral process.
"I think we have every reason to thank God because what people were expecting eventually turned the other way round," Freetown pastor Roudoulph Wilson said.
President Tejan Kabbah, re-elected on a wave of post-war euphoria in 2002, is stepping down as required by the constitution amid popular disillusionment at government graft, which many believe has drained away generous foreign aid.
Sierra Leone received $1.6 billion USD in debt relief last year, but still relies on donors for a third of its budget.
Saturday's voting was peaceful, and Freetown residents are hoping the calm atmosphere will last throughout the electoral process.
With results expected to trickle in from remote polling stations after heavy seasonal rains, observers expressed concern tensions could yet bubble over.
A second round could make a king-maker of the PMDC leader Charles Margai, a member of Sierra Leone's most famous political family who split acrimoniously last year from the SLPP, which his uncle founded.
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