9 March 2018

Sierra Leone Votes in Crucial Polls

On March 7, over three million registered voters cast their ballots for candidates of their choice in the fourth democratic elections in Sierra Leone. Overall, the election has been described by international and local observers as peaceful.

Concord Times editorial team was out and about to observe the process.

In the eastern part of Freetown, voting was very much peaceful in the areas we covered. Eligible voters were able to cast their votes for candidates of their choice without any hindrance, with some queuing to vote as early as 4 a.m.

At the Sierra Leone International Mission School (SLIMS) at Old Wharf, east Freetown, which had ten polling stations, voting started at around 8a.m. instead of 7a.m. - the official time sanctioned by National Electoral Commission (NEC) - because NEC officials arrived just after 6a.m. to set up the polling centre but found the classrooms closed.

As expected, voters were not amused and many voiced their displeasure: "I am disappointed with the preparation for voting. I have been here since 3a.m. and up to now I am yet to cast my vote. This is sickening," expressed a voter who didn't give his name.

When voting eventually started, voters queued patiently to cast their votes, but from our observation the process was very slow in some of the polling stations.

At Fullah Mosque in Calaba Town, also in the east end of the capital , large crowd of voters were in queues waiting to exercise their franchise. From our observation, the process was going on smoothly and at a faster pace.

Ward Coordinator at UMC School Calaba Town, Mariatu B. Johnny, said they didn't encounter any problems and that the process was peaceful.

"We started voting here on time. As of now, I can say it has been peaceful so far. We have thirteen polling stations here with 300 voters in each station. We have a total of 3,900 registrants," she said.

From what we observed further at polling centres visited - Calaba Town, Wellington, Kissy Dock Yard, Fourah Bay and Kissy communities - only the ruling All People's Congress (APC), Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), National Grand Coalition (NGC) and Coalition for Change (C4C) deployed agents, while the rest of twelve political parties failed to deploy agents.

Among the four political parties with agents across those stations, it was only those from the SLPP that had NEC electoral manual which contains details of registered voters and photos in each constituency.

SLPP agents were far more vigilant than their counterparts from other parties. During the counting process at UMC School, few void votes were discovered. Party agents were asked to stay far away from the ballot boxes even though some were reluctant to do so.

In the west end of Freetown, polling was peaceful although with a few challenges in some polling centres.

At E.B. Williams Municipal Secondary School on Jomo Kenyatta Road, voting started very late after 10a.m. because some NEC officials failed to show up early.

Violence erupted between supporters of the ruling APC and main opposition SLPP towards the close of polling at the old Brookfields Hotel.

Police intervened and quelled the situation, although they fired tear gas canisters to disperse irate youth.

Shortly afterwards, Inspector-General of Police Dr. Richard Moigbe arrived at the scene and ordered his personnel to step up security and prevent voters from staying within the precinct of the polling station after they have vote.

Meanwhile, polling closed at 5p.m. in most stations and counting ensued immediately. Although some results are being announced in bits and pieces by the Independent Radio Network, it is yet early to conclude who will win, although the SLPP and APC seem to be doing well, followed by the NGC and C4C.

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