Polls are crowded but peaceful in Sierra Leone, where voters are choosing a new president and parliament Saturday.
This is the third set of elections since the end of the nation's civil war in 2002, and voters flocked to the polls early in the day to place their votes. The head of the European Union observer mission, Richard Howitt, told reporters that the morning hours had seen a smooth process with a good turnout.
The National Election Commission has 10 days to announce final results. If none of the nine presidential candidates wins 55 percent of the vote, a run-off is planned for December 8th.
Incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma, who has been praised for his progress on Sierra Leone's infrastructure, faces eight challengers. They include his main challenger, opposition candidate Julius Maada Bio, who briefly served as military leader of the nation in 1996 before handing power to a short-lived civilian administration.
Ahead of the polls, political parties urged their supporters to refrain from violence that marred the 2007 elections. Gregory Houel, who leads election observers from the U.S.-based Carter Center, told VOA the pledge appears to be working.
“We can say with a certain amount of confidence that the campaign period has been much more peaceful across the country, with fewer incidents of violence, fewer clashes between the ruling APC party and the opposition, mainly the SLPP,” he said.
Sierra Leone's electoral commission says it has taken steps to ensure the polls are credible, including training of staff. Commission spokesman Albert Massaquoi told VOA that results will be more announced quickly than in the past.
“These results at local levels, at constituent levels, and at district levels would be announced no sooner than (when) polls are closed. So, in a couple of days we would expect to have all the results finalized and announced, which would be the final results.”
President Koroma won the last presidential poll in 2007 in a runoff vote. His APC party currently holds the most seats of any party in parliament.
These are the third national elections since the end of Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war in 2002.