Some polls opened late and in some instances there were shortages of election materials, observers noted.
“These shortfalls were generally addressed by midday and they did not undermine the fundamental integrity of the electoral process,” said former Zambian President Rupiah Banda, who is with the Carter Center delegation.
The observer mission from the West African regional bloc ECOWAS also noted a few isolated incidents, including the absence of backup lighting, which required party agents to improvise with cellphones and flashlights to enable counting in the dark.
‘The world is watching us’
Voters said Saturday they wanted to demonstrate just how far Sierra Leone has come over the past decade by holding a transparent and peaceful vote.
“We’ve been through a lot in the last 20 years. Now we’re trying to move forward,” said Mannah Kpukumu, 36, a civil servant waiting in a line that snaked near a giant cotton tree long before dawn. “We the young guys want employment and to be able to take care of our families.”
National election officials spread that message through posters affixed to tin shacks and traffic circles throughout the capital of Freetown: “The world is watching us. Let us don’t disappoint them.”
Election workers slept overnight at polling stations and some voters began lining up at 2 a.m. in the congested seaside capital, with chests pressed up against the people in front of them. Those not yet old enough to vote weaved through the crowds selling plastic bags of cold water stacked in buckets on their heads.
Sierra Leone’s presidential race has hinged on which candidate can best uplift this West African country, which is trying to shed its past after a brutal 1991-2002 civil war.
A decade after the war’s end, Sierra Leone remains one of the poorest countries in the world despite its diamonds and other riches.
Several recent offshore oil discoveries, though, are raising hopes for economic development.
A crucial test
Most of the country’s nearly 6 million people live on less than $1.25 a day, and it remains among the deadliest places in the world for women to give birth.
Earlier this year, the capital was hard-hit by a cholera outbreak.
While Sierra Leone already had held two mostly peaceful votes since the war’s end, experts said Saturday’s vote would be a crucial test of whether those gains were irreversible.