Sierra Leone votes peacefully, seeks development

Associated Press Modified: November 17, 2012 at 1:31 pm •  Published: November 17, 2012
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Horatio Bundoo Williams, a 34-year-old landlord, said that while he wasn't a fan of the governing party it had earned his vote through their public policy improvements.

"He told us he was going to give us light — he gave us light," Williams said.

However, doubts remain about the long-term feasibility of the health program. The opposition also believes that more needs to be done to promote job creation, and some frustrated voters said they were backing Bio instead.

"The economy is down and people are straining. Thousands of people are jobless," said Alfred Coker, 27, as he waited outside a school to vote in downtown Freetown.

Most of the country's nearly 6 million people live on less than $1.25 a day, according to World Bank statistics, and life remains especially difficult for the estimated 2,000 people who were seriously maimed during the war.

Tens of thousands died during the 1991-2002 conflict famously depicted in the film "Blood Diamond."

Sierra Leone already has successfully held mostly peaceful votes since the end of the war. This time the country is bearing the sole responsibility for securing the vote, even though it is being organized with substantial foreign aid of some 46 percent of the election budget.

"Sierra Leone has experienced 11 years of war and now we want peace. So when the results are finally declared, if the elections are conducted in a free, fair and credible manner, everybody should accept it and cooperate with the government of the day," said Marian Faux, who was voting in Freetown.

Koroma's APC party is expected to draw strong support in the north and in the capital, though he also appears to be making some inroads in traditional opposition strongholds. It's unclear, though, whether he can garner the 55 percent of ballots needed to win outright and avert a runoff.

He faces eight challengers including the leading opposition figure Bio, a retired brigadier-general from the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP). Bio calls himself the "father of democracy" after his brief three-month tenure as head of state in 1996 before handing over power to a democratically elected civilian government.

Bio and his supporters maintain the president has failed to deliver on his 2007 election promises and does not deserve a second term.

Edward Conteh said education is a key concern, especially for the children of war victims who have suffered economic hardships and few opportunities.

In 1999, rebels chopped off his left arm above the elbow with an ax when he tried to return home to collect food for his eight children.

Today, he is a 70-year-old grandfather and worries about a generation of young men without jobs.

"These are the rebels of tomorrow if we don't work to educate them," he says.

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Associated Press writer Clarence Roy-Macaulay in Freetown, Sierra Leone contributed to this report.