16 November 2012

Sierra Leone Prepares for Landmark Elections

Photo: Tiggy Ridley/IRIN
A policeman uses a poster to show a woman how to mark a ballot correctly (file photo).

Sierra Leone will head to the polls on 17 November to elect a new president, national assembly, mayors and local councils.

The complex election will mark a critical milestone for the country, ten years after the end of its brutal civil war. The West African nation has made considerable progress ever since, consolidating peace, democracy and improving development indicators amid rising rates of economic growth.

However, the gains made are still fragile and the situation remains fraught with risks of political polarization, marked by regional and ethnic divisions.

"Peaceful elections resulting in a credible outcome are critical for consolidating Sierra Leone's hard-won peace and for demonstrating that the tremendous progress the country has made since the end of the hostilities one decade ago is irreversible," said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki moon in an official statement dated 15 November.

Sierra Leone's National Electoral Commission (NEC) will oversee the ballot, with assistance from a USD 40 million dollar UN programme of support to the electoral cycle managed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). With contributions from DFID, the European Commission, Irish Aid, Germany, the UN Peace-building Fund and UNDP, it aims to promote peaceful, inclusive and credible elections, focusing on technical support, encouraging people to participate in the process, and conflict management.

The programme has resulted in training of 170 NEC staff and commissioners, enabling them to register 2.7 million voters, as well as successfully print and distribute voter identity cards across the country. For the first time, the commission adopted biometric voter registration, to prevent any irregularities. As part of its support to the Commission, UNDP also flew into Sierra Leone 38,000 ballot boxes, 36,000 bottles of indelible ink and a million seals.

UNDP supported NEC with establishing regional tally centers, to ensure decentralized counting of the results, a process that is more efficient.

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