The regional bloc ECOWAS has described Saturday's general elections in Sierra Leone as free, fair and credible, a big boost for the country that was solely responsible for organizing the third elections in the country since the end of its brutal civil war in 2002.
The characterization of the presidential, parliamentary, council and mayoral polls was contained in the preliminary report by the 150-member ECOWAS Observer Mission dispatched to Sierra Leone for the elections.
''The preparation of the 2012 elections, the conduct of the electioneering campaign, as well as the processes on Election Day up until the certification of the results of the four elections by the responsible officials at the polling stations, were free, fair, and credible,'' according to the mission, headed by former Ghana President John Kufuor,
''The vast majority of the qualified Sierra Leonean population, who wished to do so, were provided the required freedom and space to exercise their constitutional rights to vote or to be voted for,'' it added.
The mission however said there were some challenges during the polls, which it termed ''a few isolated incidents that could have marred the smooth and peaceful conduct of the polls''.
They include lack of back-up lighting to enable counting to be carried out; premeditated acts of intimidation at certain polling stations; display of party posters at some polling booths, contrary to the law; and the absence of standard polling booths and their poor improvisation which may have undermined the secrecy of the ballot.
The mission said, however, that the inadequacies observed ''do not diminish the transparency, fairness or the credibility of the electoral process at this point in time''.
Saturday's elections were seen as critical to efforts to deepen democracy and peace in the West African nation.