The international development agency Christian Aid says the presidential and legislative elections which will be held on 11 August 2007 are a crucial test of whether Sierra Leone has truly turned away from conflict.
The country is still struggling to recover from a devastating 11-year civil war.
"These are the first elections being held without the presence of UN peacekeepers since the war officially ended in 2002. They represent a real chance for the people of Sierra Leone to make a choice for change," said Judith Melby, Christian Aid’s Africa specialist.
There has been a marked improvement in the flow of information and civil society organisations note that there is a greater understanding of the electoral process among Sierra Leoneans. People are clearly interested in the elections and are determined to participate.
But Abu Brima from the Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD) is worried that some of the tactics that marred previous elections are still being employed.
"The level of personal attacks and intimidation during the course of political campaigning compares unfavourably to the 2002 elections. It appears that some political activists remain unwilling or unable to engage in a spirit of open competition without the use of force and coercion."
NMJD says that tackling corruption and poverty must be the priorities for the new government. Sierra Leone is ranked 176 of 177 countries on the UN Human Development Index; 70 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line.
"It is vital that any new administration finds the vision and political will to change the deep-rooted causes of inequity, exclusion and injustice; it is the only way my country will emerge from the depths of poverty and underdevelopment," explained Abu Brima.
Christian Aid has worked in Sierra Leone since the mid-1980s with local partners and civil society and is concerned that five years of peace and hundreds of millions of aid dollars have not resulted in fundamental changes in society. Widespread poverty, youth unemployment close to 80 per cent and endemic corruption are still pervasive.
"Five years of attempts to improve the situation of youths have had little impact. Issues around marginalisation and unemployment remain and many young men are aggrieved. As before the war they are vulnerable to manipulation by political parties to create havoc in the build up to the elections," said Joe Ndanema, from the Methodist Church of Sierra Leone.
The UK government is committed to providing at least £120 million over three years, making it Sierra Leone’s most important bilateral donor. It has already spent some US$40 million retraining and restructuring the Sierra Leone police force – the elections are likely to be a test of its ability to contain violence.