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A Step Forward In Sierra Leone

In a year of troubled elections in Africa, a bit of good news on the democracy front was seen this month in Sierra Leone, where balloting for local government posts was -- for the most part -- calm and uneventful.

The peaceful conduct of Sierra Leone’s general elections last year as well as the local elections earlier this month contrasts with the unrest sparked by the Kenyan and Zimbabwean elections, especially given Sierra Leone’s recent history. Tens of thousands died and more than one million people were injured or displaced – nearly a quarter of the total population – during the civil war that raged from 1991 through 2002.

International peacekeepers were eventually called in to restore order and a national commission helped facilitate reconciliation. Since the end of the war Sierra Leone has twice held credible presidential and parliamentary elections and in 2004 held the first local elections in 32 years. Last year, the former opposition party won a parliamentary majority and – after a run-off election — the presidency.

The balloting was not without shortcomings, including alleged harassment by the major parties and the intimidation of some independent and opposition candidates to withdraw from the ballot. Turnout also appears to have been down from the 2004 vote.

In the larger picture of self-government, the people of Sierra Leone can take pride in what they have accomplished since the end of the war. Holding regular, peaceful and orderly polls is an important step forward in their nation’s political progress.