Vote for peace

Roy McCaulay

Roy McCaulay

FREETOWN - Ballot counting was under way yesterday in Sierra Leone's first presidential election since UN peacekeepers withdrew two years ago. The vote is seen as a test of the country's transition to democratic rule.

Many Sierra Leoneans see the poll as a chance to show that they have finally emerged from a legacy of coups and a decade-long, diamond-fueled war as a multiparty state that can transfer power peacefully.

Seven candidates are vying to succeed President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. Term limits prevent the 75-year-old leader from running for a third five-year term.

The head of Sierra Leone's electoral commission, Christina Thorpe, said voting finished on time and without major incidents on Saturday.

Results from the presidential and parliamentary poll will be released progressively.

The crucial period for the war-battered nation may come months down the road when the public begins expecting real change from a new government. Despite progress since the 10-year war ended in 2002, analysts say many of the root problems that caused the conflict - corruption, poverty and unemployment - remain.

"When the euphoria dies down, the public will want to see real change. If the new government doesn't perform as people demand, the patience they have shown could run out," said Carolyn Norris of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.

Vice president and ruling party candidate Solomon Berewa, 69, is considered frontrunner. The victor must take more than 55percent of the vote to avoid a run-off between the top two finishers. - Sapa-AP