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Sierra Leone holds "successful" landmark general elections
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10:17, August 12, 2007

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Sierra Leone's second general elections since the end of civil war in 2002 have "successfully" and "smoothly" ended the voting process on Saturday afternoon, according to an official with the country's National Electoral Commission (NEC).

NEC External Relations Official Renkel Koroma told Xinhua by phone that "generally speaking, the voting process on Saturday has been smooth and successful in the capital city of Freetown and throughout the country."

A total of 2,619,565 registered voters were supposed to cast their ballots in 2,702 polling centers and 6,171 polling stations under these centers nationwide.

According to international and domestic observers who have monitored Saturday's voting process, which officially started at 7 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m., the voter turnout was high.

Despite of unsatisfying road conditions and continuous heavy rains during the past few days, voters showed great enthusiasm and flocked to voting stations in the early morning, some as early as 3 a.m..

The top concern of the voters about the next government is its ability to bring enduring peace, stability and development to the once war-raveged country.

Elizabeth Stevens, a retired school teacher in her late 50's, told Xinhua, "Everybody is so happy about the voting, because it is the right of us to vote for an enduring peace and some changes on the land, since we have suffered a lot from the war."

Sheku Turay, 79, said he arrived at the polling station in Freetown at three in the morning. "I am eager to express my wish to see progress in the country. And I am sure things would be better in the future," he said.

Mariatu Kawaru, a 36-year-old stylish employee of a state-owned commercial bank, said she prayed to see peace last forever in Sierra Leone, and she would also like to see fast change, which might bring the urgently needed development, such as better infrastructure, education and service.

"People did not care about elections in 2002 like they do today. You can feel a lot of awareness this time. And that's very positive," said Kawaru.

Also present at the scene of Sunday's voting are 19 international observer groups with 350 staff, 39 domestic observer groups with 6,751 personnel, and 8,670 party agents from all over the country.

According to their observation, Saturday's voting process went on smoothly and orderly.

Roland Buck, observer with Sierra Leone's National Commission for Democracy, told Xinhua, "the election is very important to Sierra Leone and its people. You may see from the massive turnup today that the voters are very serious about this election."

"We cannot afford it to be violent, and we have to do it right. As far as I know, the voting process is peaceful," said buck.

Chinese Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Cheng Wenju, who also leads the Chinese observer group to monitor the elections, told Xinhua that "the voting process goes on orderly and smoothly here in Freetown and in other parts of the country."

"The polling staff are well-trained about the voting procedures. The voters are enthusiastic about the voting, and they queued orderly outside the polling stations," he added.

British observer Jeffrey Harris, who is also head of the Human Rights Unit of the European Parliament, told Xinhua that there is a lot of enthusiasm in Saturday's voting.

"The polling officials are well-trained, and the voters cast their ballots peacefully. Generally speaking, I have not seen any violence or conflict," said Harris.

The elections on Saturday are the second of the kind since the decade-long civil war ended in 2002, which was estimated to have claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced around 2 million. The first was held in May 2002, during which President Ahmad Tejan KABBAH was reelected.

Saturday's election was seen as a "make or break" one for the country to realize enduring peace and development.

Seven contestants are vying for the presidency, the most hopeful among which include Vice President Solomon Ekuma BEREWA of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), Ernest Bai KOROMA of the All People's Congress (APC), and Charles MARGAI of the People's Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC).

In the meantime, 566 parliamentary candidates are contesting for the 112 seats among a total of 124 seats, the other 12 to be filled by paramount chiefs elected in separate elections.

According to Sierra Leone's election law, a presidential candidate must garner at least 55 percent of the total valid ballots in order to emerge as winner. If all candidates failed to reach the benchmark, a runoff shall be conducted between the two candidates who obtain the highest amount of votes in the first round.

It is estimated that the final results of Saturday's elections would be available around Aug. 23.

Source: Xinhua

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