- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 21, 2012

FREETOWN, Sierra LeoneSierra Leone carried out a largely peaceful and well-conducted vote despite isolated reports of money changing hands and polling stations marred by bees and lack of light, observers said this week.

Saturday’s vote was the third presidential election since the end of the West African country’s brutal 11-year civil war that ended in 2002, and analysts say it is a key test of how far the nation has come.

While local radio stations have begun airing unofficial results from some polling stations, the National Electoral Commission has yet to announce whether the vote will go to a second round.

Incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma must get 55 percent of the ballots cast or he will face his main opponent, Julius Maada Bio, in a second round of voting.

In issuing the European Union observer mission’s preliminary results, chief observer Richard Howitt said Monday it is up to the country’s election body to make a decision about when to announce the results.

The body legally has up to 10 days after the election to declare its results.

“Clearly, the National Electoral Commission will want to take sufficient time and care to ensure the accurate accounting of the vote but they will want to move as quickly as possible with the announcement of the results before any risks of instability or unrest,” Mr. Howitt said.

Sierra Leone’s chief elections officer, Christiana Thorpe, said that polling “was reported to be peaceful and orderly in almost all polling stations nationwide.”

However, she noted that polling was disrupted by a swarm of honey bees in Ward 135 in the Kambia District.

“The polling station was automatically relocated and polling went on peacefully,” Ms. Thorpe said.

‘Orderly, transparent’

The EU mission noted there were isolated reports of the governing party distributing cash payments.

While the mission was assured that the amount of money involved amounted to a local “handshake,” Mr. Howitt said in one case there was “a significant amount of money involved.”

There also was a report of one polling station where voters who presented ID cards were allowed to vote though they ultimately were not on the voter registry, Mr. Howitt said. The ballot boxes in question were under quarantine pending an investigation, he added.

The U.S.-based Carter Center also said this week that Sierra Leone’s vote had been “peaceful, orderly and transparent.”

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