Sierra Leone’s High Court on Monday lifted an order that had halted the country’s presidential runoff, although the electoral commission has requested a brief postponement after losing valuable time to prepare the vote.
The High Court removed an injunction it imposed on Saturday to halt preparations for the poll due to an electoral fraud complaint filed by a lawyer linked to the ruling All Peoples’ Congress (APC).
Lawyers for the National Electoral Commission (NEC) said in their filing Monday the order had already thrown the election into “chaos”.
The commission requested an alternative date for the election of March 31, but it is not yet clear whether this will be granted.
The APC further alleged on Sunday that the electoral commission was working with a different voter registration list to calculate results than the one officially published.
More than 250 people and dozens of lawyers crammed into the courtroom on Monday, while outside TV cameras awaited the results, closely guarded by police.
Opposition leader Julius Maada Bio, from the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), took 43.3 percent of votes in the first round, while Samura Kamara of the incumbent APC took 42.7 percent.
Sierra Leone emerged from a brutal civil war in 2002 and has remained largely peaceful since then.
However, flare-ups occur around election time, and memories of a conflict in which more than 50,000 died remain potent.
The APC’s first-round loss fuelled allegations by the opposition that it was seeking to derail the final outcome through the courts.
“The motivation behind the APC injunction is very clear: they do not want a runoff presidential election to proceed because they know the verdict of the overwhelming majority of Sierra Leonean electorate will not be in their favour,” Bio told a press conference on Sunday.
A group of civil society organisations said Saturday the court decision was “frustrating and depressing”, as the March 7 vote had been declared credible by national and international observers.
President Ernest Bau Koroma is stepping down after a maximum two terms.
Bio has said the president will bring Sierra Leone “to the brink of chaos” if he fails to leave as scheduled at the end of his mandate.
Some candidates and supporters have used ethnic slurs at campaign rallies, and the police and international observers have raised concerns over such rhetoric in recent weeks.
The APC broadly relies on the Temne and Limba people in its northern strongholds, while the SLPP is more popular in the south with the Mende ethnic group.