Page last updated at 18:00 GMT, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Poll closes in historic election

Sark voter
Fred Teers wants changes to benefit all islanders on Sark

Voters in the Channel Island of Sark have turned out in their hundreds to elect the first democratic government in nearly 450 years.

The count began shortly after 1800 GMT when Sark's only polling station closed at Island Hall.

Fifty-seven candidates are fighting for 28 seats in the Chief Pleas. The results are expected overnight.

The first islander to cast his vote was Roger Olsen, a former member of Chief Pleas.

"Today is an opportunity for everyone on the island to take control of their own destiny," he told BBC News.

'Cheaper beer'

Mr Olsen said he had taken the decision not to stand because he believed the historic change to democracy was a new phase and it was time for "fresh eyes, new blood and a new perspective".

Sark's constitution was reformed in order to comply with European human rights legislation.

But the election has caused a deep division among those who want to retain the island's traditional character and those who want more development.

The BBC's Jon Kay explores Sark

When the island's oldest resident, 93-year-old Fred Teers, arrived to cast his vote he joked that what Sark needed was cheaper beer.

"Seriously though, I'd say Sark has been very good for some people, but now what I want to see is that it will be good for everyone."

The names of the successful candidates will be announced by the returning officer Lt Col Reg Guille.

The hereditary role of seigneur (feudal lord) was not changed in the reform law and the current incumbent, Michael Beaumont, said he was confident his son would inherit the position.

Asked what his hopes were for a democratic Sark, he replied: "After the ceaseless bickering between the tenants (landowners) and deputies in the old Chief Pleas, I hope the new body will all work together for the benefit of the island."

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