As Sierra Leoneans go to the polls Saturday, the main opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) said it is confident its presidential candidate, former military head of state Julius Maada Bio will defeat incumbent Ernest Bai Koroma, if the elections are free and fair.
John Benjamin, SLPP chairman, said Sierra Leoneans will choose the opposition over the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) because of the country’s economic difficulties.
“We have done everything that we believe will enable us to win this election on the first round. Our flag bearer, I and the running mate, we have been all over the country campaigning from district to district. And, what is also helping our campaign is the hardship that has been created on the people of Sierra Leone by the bad governance, bad performance, bad economic management of this APC government,” he said.
Benjamin cited what he said are high commodity prices, including rice, Sierra Leone’s staple food.
“The cost of our staple food, rice, when they came into power five years ago, was 60,000 Leones a bag. Now, that same bag of rice is going for like about 200,000 Leones. Things have deteriorated,” Benjamin said.
But, Koroma supporters said the president has brought about infrastructure development and the economy has boomed under his administration. They also say Sierra Leone has enjoyed peace and stability.
Benjamin said life would be even better for Sierra Leoneans under SLPP leadership because he said the party will ensure that the country’s resources are used for the benefit of the people.
“In our party, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party, we have qualified people that will manage our economy. And one thing we will do is to make sure that, when investors come into our country, we will encourage them to provide the resources that we need to manage their businesses. But, at the same time, we also will have a management stake in their businesses so that, when they benefit, the benefit is not just for themselves, it’s also for our country,” Benjamin said.
He rejects criticism that the election of SLPP candidate, Julius Maada Bio, would be tantamount to returning Sierra Leone to the days of military dictatorship.
“I believe that, by serving in the military government, that helped create democracy, that helped bring peace to our country; I believe that that, in itself, has given the opportunity for him to come again and serve as a civilian because there is no crime in you becoming a civilian and coming to serve your country in a civilian capacity,” he said.
Benjamin said the opposition is hopeful Saturday’s election would be free and fair.
“We have our apprehension[s] because we have seen the police mainly going to serve the interest of the governing party, and these are fears we have expressed to the international community. But, we are sort of encouraged by the presence of international observers, and we believe their presence might also give confidence to our people and make it difficult for anybody to introduce violence into the system,” Benjamin said.