Following incidents of violence and the unfortunate death of an opposition party volunteer, Sierra Leone began tallying votes in the presidential election on Monday. However, international observers expressed concerns about the lack of transparency in the vote-counting process.
Within 48 hours of Saturday’s election, provisional results are expected to be announced. The incumbent President, Julius Maada Bio, sought a second term amidst public frustration over the worsening economic challenges in the West African nation. Samuel Kamara, the leader of the main opposition party, All People’s Congress (APC), is considered Bio’s primary rival.
In response to a rowdy gathering of supporters at the APC headquarters in the capital city of Freetown on Sunday, the police fired tear gas.
A Reuters reporter present at the scene discovered a woman lying motionless in a pool of blood beneath a window with a fist-sized hole. While the police did not provide details regarding the woman’s situation, an APC spokesperson confirmed on Monday that she was a party volunteer and had tragically lost her life.
International election observation missions expressed their apprehension regarding the highly polarized political climate and urged for transparent vote counting to foster trust in the electoral process.
The Carter Centre, a US-based election monitoring group, highlighted reports indicating a lack of transparency during certain stages of the tabulation process. The electoral commission of Sierra Leone is expected to issue a response later.
Amidst the announcement of results, there are concerns among many Sierra Leoneans regarding the potential for further unrest, particularly if none of the 13 candidates secures 55% of the total votes, which would necessitate a runoff between the top two contenders.
As a precaution, schools, offices, and most shops remained closed in Freetown on Monday while security forces cordoned off the APC offices and the surrounding areas.
Sierra Leone has been on edge since violent protests erupted last year due to rising prices. President Bio and Samuel Kamara reported isolated attacks on their supporters before the election. While both sides have appealed for calm, Kamara raised doubts about the impartiality of election officials before the poll, expressing concerns about potential vote manipulation.
On Sunday, he said, “Rest assured that the APC party and I would not accept any skewed, manipulated, and unverified results.”