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Cablegate: Sierra Leoneans Enthusiastically Vote in Peaceful

VZCZCXRO9022
OO RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHFN #0481/01 2251744
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 131744Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY FREETOWN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1273
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 FREETOWN 000481

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR AF/W, INR/AA (BGRAVES)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV KDEM SL
SUBJECT: SIERRA LEONEANS ENTHUSIASTICALLY VOTE IN PEACEFUL
ELECTIONS

REF: FREETOWN 479

SUMMARY
-------
1. (SBU) On August 11, Sierra Leone conducted successful
presidential and parliamentary elections. As of late evening
on August 12, preliminary partial unofficial results showed
the All People's Congress (APC) leading with nearly 45
percent of the presidential vote followed by the ruling
Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) with nearly 40 percent.
The People's Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) was in
third place with 10 percent of the vote. Voters came out en
masse to vote lining up at polling centers as early as 0300
hrs. Many voting centers opened late due to the delayed
delivery of ballot boxes; however, all voters were
accommodated by the close of polls at 1700 hrs. The elections
were peaceful and voters showed great enthusiasm while
waiting in line to vote. Fortunately, the weather cooperated,
which likely increasing voter turnout. There were minimal
incidents of violence, and international observers commended
the National Electoral Commission (NEC) for effectively
managing elections operations. Initials results indicate it
is likely there will a presidential runoff election between
the APC and SLPP. END SUMMARY.

SIERRA LEONE HOLDS PEACEFUL ELECTIONS
-------------------------------------
2. (SBU) Correcting many of the problems experienced during
the 2002 national elections, Sierra Leone successfully
conducted national elections in over 6,000 polling stations
on August 11. The elections, the second national elections
since the end of the decade-long civil war in 2002, and the
first since peacekeepers departed in December 2005, were
peaceful by all accounts and deemed a success by the
international community.

PARTIAL RESULTS SHOW SLIGHT APC LEAD, RUNOFF LIKELY
--------------------------------------------- ------
3. (SBU) Preliminary partial unofficial results as of late
evening on August 12 showed the APC in the lead in the
presidential race with 45 percent of the vote followed by the
ruling SLPP with 40 percent and the PMDC gaining 10 percent.
It looks likely there will be a presidential runoff election
between the SLPP and APC. That election, if necessary, would
be held around September 8.

NEC OFFICIALS PERFORM WELL
--------------------------
4. (SBU) International observers generally agreed that NEC
polling officials effectively managed most voting centers.
Polling officials worked feverishly to move voters through
long lines and by midday, most voters had cast their ballots.
There were slight delays in opening many voting centers when
ballot boxes were delivered late, due to a last minute
decision to distribute ballot boxes early on the morning on
August 11 after torrential rains the day before had caused
delays. At voting centers monitored by Embassy staff, polling
officials acted professionally and welcomed the many
international and domestic elections observers present at the
polls.

VOTERS CAST VOTES PEACEFULLY, EXPERIENCE SMALL DISRUPTIONS
--------------------------------------------- -------------
5. (SBU) Overall, voters were enthusiastic and waited calmly
in line to vote. At voting centers with multiple voting
stations and large numbers of registered voters, there was
confusion over which polling station lines voters should use,
causing frayed nerves and heightened tensions when voters
were told they were in the wrong line after having waited
many hours. The poor physical layout of many polling stations
also contributed to bottlenecks when voters were forced to
use one entrance as both an entry and exit point. Poor
lighting in some voting centers also made it difficult for
poll officials to identify voters, names and serial numbers
on registration lists and slowed processing voters. However,
these minor irregularities and difficulties will not affect
the final outcome.

POLICE MAINTAIN NEUTRALITY
-------------------------
6. (SBU) The Sierra Leone Police (SLP) received positive
reviews for its strong neutral performance and responded well
to polling disruptions and impatient voters despite concerns
about its limited capacity and neutrality. There was one
reported incident in eastern Freetown where Police fired
warning shots and tear gas to disperse a crowd that had begun
to threaten NEC polling officials during the counting phase.
The Police were able to quickly bring the situation under
control. In another reported incident, police officers

FREETOWN 00000481 002 OF 002


apparently removed Deputy Minister of Defence Joe Blell from
a polling station when he tried to enter after the poll had
closed and counting had begun. Embassy monitors observed the
Police acting professionally and effectively assisting
polling officials to inform voters where they needed to go to
cast their votes.

DEPLOYED SOLDIERS NOT ALLOWED TO VOTE
-------------------------------------
7. (SBU) On election day, about 150 soldiers deployed
upcountry in Kenema District in the Eastern Province were not
allowed to vote in the presidential elections. There had been
discussions at the NEC to make an exception for soldiers
deployed outside their voting districts to vote in the
presidential but not parliamentary elections. However,
apparently no decision was ever reached between the NEC and
the Ministry of Defence after the Office of National Security
reportedly decided shortly before election day it would allow
soldiers to be used only sparingly to support the Police.

APC AND SLPP SCRAMBLE FOR POSSIBLE SECOND ROUND
--------------------------------------------- --
8. (SBU) With a runoff election likely, the APC and SLPP are
busy developing strategies on how best to position their
parties to win a simple majority in the runoff. Key to either
party,s ability to win will be gaining the support of the
PMDC, which did remarkably well in the Southern and Eastern
Provinces. Both APC and SLPP party officials are reportedly
negotiating with the PMDC leadership to gain its support.
Interestingly, APC officials continue to express confidence
that they can and will win the requisite 55 percent from
Saturday,s presidential election vote. However, that looks
unlikely.

COMMENT
--------
9. (SBU) International observers and voters agree these were
the best elections in the history of Sierra Leone. Despite
minor irregularities, the outcome thus far has been
successful. Most notably, Sierra Leoneans went to the polls
to vote on issues, not ethnically-based parties as has been
common in the past. In 2002, it was a vote for peace. Now
five years removed from civil war, Sierra Leoneans expect
more from their elected officials, and many voiced complaints
that the Government had failed them. However, despite the
NEC,s and other international organizations, valiant
efforts to educate voters, Embassy monitors and other
observers witnessed instances where voters were confused by
the process and possessed little or no knowledge of the
political candidates, reflective of the low literacy rate in
the country.

10. (SBU) The stakes in a possible runoff will be
considerably higher now that one party only has to win a
simple majority. It is imperative that international and
domestic observers remain vigilant to the activities of
political parties. Observers must stay on the ground
throughout this uncertain time, and observation teams will be
essential in the critical runoff that looms ahead. END
COMMENT.
HULL

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