Sierra Leonean voters turned out in their numbers on Saturday, 24th June, to choose a new president, members of parliament, mayors, and local councilors. The voting process took off to a slow start in some Centers in the Western Area and other parts of the country. Officially, voting starts from 7:00 am until 5:00 pm local time.
Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Head of the ECOWAS 95-member strong Election Observation Mission supported by the Deputy Head of Mission, Amb. Ansumana Ceesay and the ECOWAS Commission’s Technical Team led by Amb. Abdel-Fatau Musah, ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace, and Security, arrived at the Aberdeen Municipal School Polling Center in Freetown before the official opening of balloting at 7:00 am.
Voting started at 8.25 am at Polling Station 08, at the Centre, with 204 registered voters.
Preferential treatment was given to Persons Living with Disability and older people. Tholley Idrissa, 43, the first voter, took approximately eight minutes to cast his ballot.
The situation was similar in some Centers from the field reports by ECOWAS Observers deployed to the 16 electoral districts.
Dr. Chambas and his delegation had to appeal to agitated voters to exercise patience at the Logos Academy polling Centre in Aberdeen, Freetown urban.
The Centre has seven polling stations with about 2,300 registered voters. By 9 am, voting had not started because of the late arrival of sensitive electoral materials, including ballot boxes.
When contacted, Mohamed Konneh, Chair of the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL), said the situation at the Logos Academy had been brought to his notice. He blamed the situation on a mix-up and pledged that the Commission was in the process of resolving it.
He also assured the ECOWAS Mission that every voter in the queue by the closing time of 5:00 pm would be allowed to vote.
The Head of the ECOWAS Mission and his delegation later visited the same polling Centre for the second time, and the electoral process proceeded smoothly.
Similarly, the electoral process was orderly and peaceful at the Hockey pitch polling Centre in Wilberforce Barracks, also in Freetown urban.
This Centre has 14 polling stations, each with approximately 300 registered voters. The electoral process started between 7:00 am and 8:00 am, and by 9.25 am, polling stations 08 and 09 recorded about 40 voters.
Giving his preliminary assessment, Dr. Chambas, who also met other Heads of Observation Missions, including former Nigerian Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, leading the Commonwealth Mission, and Mr. Haile Mariem Desalegn Bosche, the African Union Head of Mission, appealed for calm and expressed optimism that voting would pick up during the day.
He commended the discipline and orderliness of many voters arriving at the polling centers as early as 2:00 am, noting that this demonstrated their determination and commitment to democracy.
The Head of Mission later visited the ECOWAS Situation Room, where the Technical Team was coordinating the observation and liaising with the Observers in the field.
Sitting President Julius Maada Bio of the SLPP, seeking a second term, is facing challenges from 12 other contestants, including Samura Kamara of the opposition APC, whom he defeated in the 2018 election.
Results of Saturday’s polls are expected to be announced within 48 hours; If no candidate gets the mandatory 55% of the valid votes in the first round, the two frontrunners will go into a run-off vote two weeks after the official announcement of the first-round result.
The ECOWAS Mission and other international and local observers are following the electoral process.