Defeated Sierra Leone opposition says election flawed

Simon Akam
Reuters Middle East

* Incumbent President Koroma proclaimed victor on Friday

* Opposition claims "systematic and widespread


* Fast-growing economy looks to iron ore, oil development

FREETOWN, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Sierra Leone's main opposition

party on Saturday attacked the credibility of a poll that saw

incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma elected to a second term

in an outright victory.

The dispute risks tarnishing a vote deemed free and fair by

observers and that many hope will help pave the way for an

economic revival of the war-scarred West African nation.

Koroma's main challenger Julius Maada Bio, a former military

junta leader, said "systemic and widespread irregularities,

malpractices and injustices ... undermined the credibility of

the results."

While the SLPP stopped short of rejecting the results

outright, a top party official said the chances it would accept

its defeat when the party's leadership meets on Tuesday were


"It's very unlikely. Our membership are very strong-hearted

about it," the SLPP's national secretary general Banja Tejan-Sie

told Reuters.

While analysts predicted ethnic loyalties would make it hard

to secure the 55 percent of votes required for a first round

victory in the Nov. 15 election, Koroma and his All People's

Congress party won outright with 58.7 percent.

Bio garnered 37.4 percent of votes in a high turnout for the

election, the third national poll since the end of a 1991-2002

civil war that made Sierra Leone notorious as a "blood diamonds"

battleground for rebels and child soldiers.

At stake was the job of overseeing billions of dollars of

investment in a natural resources boom with the potential to

lift the gold, oil and iron-rich country from poverty.

Iron-ore shipments by British companies African Minerals and

London Mining are expected to help the economy achieve 20

percent growth this year, below original forecasts of more than

50 percent, but still one of the highest growth rates on the


While a large European Union observer mission said the

advantage of incumbency meant the electoral playing field was

skewed in favour of Koroma, it and other observers called the

process free and fair.

More than 9,000 polling stations catered to the country of

5.5 million voters on election day.

In a statement released before the results on Friday,

electoral commission chief Christiania Thorpe said recounts took

place in 173 polling stations, however over-voting was only

found to have occurred in five.

"It is mathematically impossible for the number of ballots

in the ballot boxes to be recounted to impact the outcome of the

presidential election," the statement read.

Koroma's spokesman Unisa Sesay said on Saturday that the

poll result was credible and the NEC had thoroughly investigated

the SLPP's complaints.

"It's not only Sierra Leoneans who are saying it," he said.

"Don't forget that these are the elections that have been most

comprehensively observed for a very long time."

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