Big turnout as Sierra Leone holds election

President Ernest Bai Koroma leaves the polling station after voting. Picture: AP
President Ernest Bai Koroma leaves the polling station after voting. Picture: AP
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SIERRA Leone’s voters yesterday faced a choice between an incumbent president who has expanded healthcare and built roads, or a former military leader in a West African nation still recovering a decade on from a bloody civil war.

The election marked the third presidential vote since Sierra Leone’s brutal 11-year conflict, which saw the conscription of child soldiers and torture, ended in 2002.

Voters said yesterday they wanted to demonstrate how far the nation has come in the past decade by holding a transparent and peaceful vote.

“We’ve been through a lot in the past 20 years. Now we’re trying to move forward,” said Mannah Kpukumu, 36, a civil servant queuing long before dawn. “We young guys want employment and to be able to take care of our families.”

National election officials spread the message through posters affixed to tin shacks and traffic roundabouts throughout the capital, Freetown: “The world is watching us. Let us don’t disappoint them.”

Election workers slept overnight at polling stations and some voters began lining up at 2am in the congested seaside capital. Those not yet old enough to vote wove through the crowds selling plastic bags of water stacked in buckets on their heads.

Richard Howitt, chief of the European Union election observation mission, said the process would be flawed but early reports indicated a high turnout.

“What we see is a very happy atmosphere with people enthusiastic to vote,” he said.

President Ernest Bai Koroma later cast his vote in front of fans chanting his name.

“We are also pleased it has been a peaceful process up to this moment and hope it will continue,” he said.

Leading opposition candidate and former military leader Julius Maada Bio said he was “very confident I am going to defeat the president in this very first round”.

Koroma won office in 2007 on promises to uplift the country and sought to reassure voters with campaign signs that read: “I Will Do More”.

His supporters point to strides made in healthcare through a free medical aid programme. They also see hope for Sierra Leone because of recent offshore oil discoveries.

Koroma’s healthcare programme has proved enormously popular in a country hard hit by cholera and with a very high rate of mortality in childbirth.