Electoral officials tallied votes from general elections seen as a key test of the west African nation’s post-war recovery as it looks towards greater development thanks to a mining boom.
After a peaceful day of voting in the presidential, parliamentary and local elections on Saturday, locals crowded around crackling radios releasing unofficial results from individual polling stations.
Sporadic cheering erupted in communities across the capital Freetown, a traditional stronghold of the ruling All People’s Congress (APC), as results trickled in.
Polling officials counted votes throughout the night, mostly by lantern light, under the watch of observers, party officials, police and soldiers.
By Sunday morning most had finished and passers-by examined results posted outside polling booths. Decisive results are not expected until next week, and the National Electoral Commission will announce the final outcome on Saturday.
The poll is seen as a tight race between incumbent Ernest Koroma, who has overseen a construction boom, and ex-military leader Julius Maada Bio, who has amassed support among many still struggling to survive in what is still one of the world’s poorest nations.
Koroma is regarded as the favourite, but it is unclear whether he will reach the 55 percent of votes needed to avoid a run-off.
While no major incidents have marred the election process, it will be most fragile when results are released. Both candidates have said they are confident of victory and Bio has warned he will not accept a “dirty election”.
In the Wilberforce neighbourhood, Musa Mansary, 37, a schoolteacher, and about 20 men sat around a small radio, declaring themselves certain of a first-round win for Koroma.
“We will accept (an opposition victory), but it is impossible. The worst will be a run-off,” Mansary said.
A decade after the end of a war synonymous with feared rebel leaders armed through the sale of “blood diamonds”, Sierra Leone has become accustomed to peace.
Now the concerns of most voters are development, prosperity, improved access to education and health care, and greater employment opportunities.
While still one of the world’s poorest countries, Sierra Leone is rich in mineral resources and massive iron-ore stores are expected to add 21 percent growth this year to its $2.2 billion (1.7 billion euro) gross domestic product, the International Monetary Fund estimates.