Sierra Leone president Julius Maada leads vote count disputed by opposition


Posted on June 27, 2023 06:54

 © A voter casts his ballot for the national election at a polling station in Freetown, Sierra Leone, June 24, 2023. REUTERS
A voter casts his ballot for the national election at a polling station in Freetown, Sierra Leone, June 24, 2023. REUTERS

Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio was leading the results of the country’s presidential election with 60% of votes counted, the electoral commission said Monday, in a process disputed by the opposition.

Bio had garnered 55.86% of ballots cast, more than the 55% required for victory after Saturday’s first round of voting, the commission said.

The incumbent’s 1,067,666 votes put him ahead of his main rival Samura Kamara, who had 793,751 votes or 41.53%, it said.

Final results were expected within 48 hours, according to election commission chief Mohamed Kenewui Konneh.

The tally is already being disputed by the opposition All People’s Congress (APC), which denounced in a statement Monday an alleged lack of inclusiveness, transparency and responsibility by the electoral commission.

The party pointed to the lack of information about which polling stations or districts the ballots were coming from.

It said it “will not accept these fake and cooked up results”.

In a follow-up statement, it alleged “overvoting” in some areas and said the party “continues to reject” the “fabricated results” and “reaffirms our victory”.

On Sunday, Bio’s Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) said in a statement that it was confident of victory.

Lack of transparency

During a Monday evening press conference, European Union observers said a lack of transparency and communication by the electoral authority had led to mistrust in the electoral process.

The monitors said they witnessed violence at seven polling stations during voting hours and at three others during the closing and counting stages.

They received reports of violent incidents in six regions, including those involving live ammunition in three districts, they said.

About 3.4 million people were registered to vote in Saturday’s election.

Twelve men and one woman stood for president, but Bio’s main challenger was Kamara of the APC.

Bio narrowly beat Kamara in a runoff in 2018.

The president, 59, a former coup leader in the 1990s, has championed education and women’s rights in his first civilian term.

Kamara, 72, a former foreign and finance minister, lambasted the electoral commission throughout the campaign period over alleged irregularities and delays.

Sierra Leoneans also voted in parliamentary and municipal elections Saturday.

‘Like a horror film’

EU observers denounced violence by security forces at the APC headquarters in Freetown on Sunday night, in what the police said was an effort to disperse opposition supporters, which left one woman dead.

Sidie Yahya Tunis, a spokesman for the APC, told AFP the woman had been on the ground floor of the building at the time.

“She was downstairs in the medical unit — she’s a nurse — we have a little health clinic in our office, that’s where she was working”, he said.

The woman’s son, Ibrahim Conteh, a 25-year-old law student, told AFP that he had identified his mother’s body at the morgue.

“I need justice… I just want to know” who killed my mother, he said in tears.

“I don’t care who is my president… I don’t care what’s his name, I don’t care what’s his party, I don’t care — I just want my president, the president of Sierra Leone, to come to my aid”, he added.

Police did not confirm the death, while saying they had fired tear gas canisters “to disperse the crowd which was disturbing people on the road”.

Abu Bakar Kargbo, 42, a UK-based member of the APC party who said he was inside the building Sunday evening, told AFP the incident was “like a horror film”.

“After a while, we realised that live rounds were being fired,” he said. “It was terrifying… It was like the end of the world.”

AFP reporters saw blood and bullet holes inside the APC headquarters early Monday.

Hannah, a party secretary who did not want to give her last name, returned early Monday morning to collect belongings she had left during the chaos the previous night.

“People were dancing and celebrating outside. They were happy. All of a sudden, I heard shots and tear gas,” she told AFP, her voice hoarse.

“It was really traumatic.”

Calm returned to the capital Monday.

Incidents of political violence are typical of Sierra Leonean election campaigns.

International and citizen observer groups said voting on Saturday had been mostly peaceful.

In a brief address Monday evening, Bio did not comment on Sunday’s violence.

“I call on all citizens to keep the peace and continue to respect all public order laws,” he said.

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