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Thursday, September 13, 2007

SIERRA LEONE: President Ernest Bai Koroma

Results from Sierra Leone’s presidential run-off showed Ernest Bai Koroma, the opposition challenger, heading for almost certain victory, setting the stage for the country’s first peaceful transfer of power since independence.

The electoral commission said in its daily briefing on Thursday that Mr Koroma had won 859,144 votes, compared to 567,449 for Solomon Berewa, the ruling party candidate, with 76.1 per cent of ballots from Saturday’s poll counted.

The remaining results are due to be released on Monday.

While a last-minute upset may still be theoretically possible, it would take a major shift in the voting trend to deny Mr Koroma and his All People’s Congress victory.

”We have an unassailable lead,” said Alpha Kanu, APC spokesman. ”We are waiting for Mr Berewa to concede.”

Officials of Mr Berewa’s ruling Sierra Leone People’s party (SLPP) were not immediately available for comment.

The largely peaceful conduct of Saturday’s poll, which followed an initial round of voting on August 11, has been seen as an important step in Sierra Leone’s recovery from a decade of civil war that ended five years ago. The ballot is the first to be held since one of the world’s largest peacekeeping forces withdrew in 2005.

Britain, which sent commandoes to help end the war in its former colony, has taken the lead in international efforts to rebuild. Renewed stability has led to an increase in diamond production and the revival of one of the world’s largest natural rutile mines, used to produce titanium ore.

But Mr Koroma’s lead has been widely interpreted in Freetown, the capital, as an indictment of the ruling SLPP’s party’s failure to deliver jobs and stamp out corruption.

Clashes between party activists marred the run-up to the second round vote in the capital and some other parts of the country. The electoral commission says it is investigating reports of irregularities from both parties.

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