News / Africa

Sierra Leone Girds for Landmark Elections

A Sierra Leone army marching band parading ahead of Saturday's presidential election, Freetown, November 16 2012.
A Sierra Leone army marching band parading ahead of Saturday's presidential election, Freetown, November 16 2012.
TEXT SIZE - +
Anne Look
FREETOWN—Hopes are high and the pressure is on as Sierra Leoneans get ready to elect a new president and parliament on Saturday.
 
The country's third national election since the end of its decade-long civil war in 2002—and its first independently organized election since that conflict—many hope the contest will cement the country's democratic standing and stability.
 
Sierra Leone's General Election

  • President is elected by absolute majority
  • A run-off is held if no candidate wins more than 55%
  • Nine candidates are running for president
  • Voters are also electing 112 members of parliament and 12 paramount chief members
  • 10 political parties are fielding parliamentary candidates
  • Citizens 18 years old and older are able to vote
  • 2.5 million voters are registered to vote
Ahead of the polls, officials of all political parties pledged to urge supporters to refrain from the violence that marred elections in 2007, in which President Ernest Bai Koroma claimed a run-off victory. Koroma, whose All People's Congress (APC) currently holds a parliamentary majority, faces eight challengers, including main opposition candidate Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP).
 
As nationwide campaigning wrapped up Thursday, analysts said that although they expect a tight race, the incumbent has a good chance of being re-elected to a second five-year term
 
'New Direction'
Girls watch a rally for Sierra Leone opposition presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio from their terrace in downtown Freetown, November 15, 2012.Girls watch a rally for Sierra Leone opposition presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio from their terrace in downtown Freetown, November 15, 2012.
x
Girls watch a rally for Sierra Leone opposition presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio from their terrace in downtown Freetown, November 15, 2012.
Girls watch a rally for Sierra Leone opposition presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio from their terrace in downtown Freetown, November 15, 2012.
In the capital, Freetown's main stadium was awash in SLPP green as tens of thousands of supporters sang and cheered their candidate to the stage.
 
"President Ernest Bai Koroma done fail," the former military leader declared before the arena, reiterating his belief that the incumbent has come up short on promises to the nation. "He done fail willfully. One country. Statehouse is not a classroom where we allow failures to repeat."
 
Bio, who is running on a platform of change that SLPP supporters call "New Direction," is celebrated by constituents as the "father of democracy" for stepping down in 1996, just three months after seizing power in a coup.
 
A supporter of opposition candidate Julius Maada Bio naps under stadium lights at rally, Freetown, Sierra Leone, Nov. 15, 2012.A supporter of opposition candidate Julius Maada Bio naps under stadium lights at rally, Freetown, Sierra Leone, Nov. 15, 2012.
x
A supporter of opposition candidate Julius Maada Bio naps under stadium lights at rally, Freetown, Sierra Leone, Nov. 15, 2012.
A supporter of opposition candidate Julius Maada Bio naps under stadium lights at rally, Freetown, Sierra Leone, Nov. 15, 2012.
The 48-year-old candidate's promise to improve the quality of education and make it free is resonating with supporters such as Ishamel Sama, a 2007 university graduate who has yet to find a job in his field.
 
"There are a lot of guys that are on the streets begging," he said, touching on just one of several hot issues in this year's election: high youth unemployment, how best to use the country's substantial mineral wealth, and corruption.
 
"They want to work," he added. "We have a lot of resources, [and] there are people with [lots of] knowledge but don't have the opportunity to express themselves. We are really tired of this government."
 
'I Will Do More'
A child street vendor stands in front of a poster for Sierra Leone's ruling party presidential candidate Ernest Bai Koroma, Freetown, Nov. 16, 2012.A child street vendor stands in front of a poster for Sierra Leone's ruling party presidential candidate Ernest Bai Koroma, Freetown, Nov. 16, 2012.
x
A child street vendor stands in front of a poster for Sierra Leone's ruling party presidential candidate Ernest Bai Koroma, Freetown, Nov. 16, 2012.
A child street vendor stands in front of a poster for Sierra Leone's ruling party presidential candidate Ernest Bai Koroma, Freetown, Nov. 16, 2012.
APC campaign billboards around the capital feature the incumbent president, arms outstretched, under the slogan, "I Will Do More."

Koroma, whose backers held their last campaign rally in Freetown on Sunday — part of a carefully plotted rotation of political rallies aimed at preventing clashes between riled-up, rival parties — defends his track record on corruption and the economy.
 
Supporters of the ruling All People's Congress party's President Ernest Bai Koroma attend a rally outside State House in the center of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, October 11, 2012.Supporters of the ruling All People's Congress party's President Ernest Bai Koroma attend a rally outside State House in the center of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, October 11, 2012.
x
Supporters of the ruling All People's Congress party's President Ernest Bai Koroma attend a rally outside State House in the center of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, October 11, 2012.
Supporters of the ruling All People's Congress party's President Ernest Bai Koroma attend a rally outside State House in the center of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, October 11, 2012.
"It has been quite a difficult period, a very difficult navigation to do, but we have succeeded: stabilizing the Leone, restoring confidence in the economy, attracting international investment," the president told reporters on Monday. "And with all of what we have been doing that is positive, I am asking for re-election so that we can continue with this process."

Koroma supporters point to improved roads, electrical infrastructure and a free healthcare initiative for pregnant women, new mothers and young children.
 
"He took up the bold step, the strides, despite party affiliation, despite tribal affiliation," said Oumo Mayama Sanko, an APC supporter who emphasized progress in the country's less-developed interior. "So he is a man who is not tribalistic. He works for everybody. He's the president of Sierra Leone."
 
A fierce rivalry
 
Sierra Leone

  • GDP $3.8 billion
  • GDP per capita $621
  • Population 6.15 million
  • Total Area 71,740 square kilometers
  • Languages English, Temne, Mende, Krio
In a place where political allegiance is often based on ethnic and regional identity — often referred to here as "tribalism" — the fierce rivalry between the two main political parties dates back to independence.
 
It has erupted during previous elections.
 
Gregory Houel, who leads election observers from the U.S.-based Carter Center, said this year's anti-violence pledge appears to be working.
 
"We can say with a certain amount of confidence that the campaign period has been much more peaceful across the country, with fewer incidents of violence, fewer clashes between the ruling APC party and the opposition, mainly the SLPP," he said.
 
Sierra Leone's electoral commission says it has taken steps to ensure the polls are credible, including the training of staff and distribution of posters with drawings and text that illustrate how to vote. Commission spokesman Albert Massaquoi said results will be more announced quickly than in the past.
 
"These results at local levels, at constituent levels, and at district levels would be announced no sooner than [when] polls are closed," he said. "So, in a couple of days we would expect to have all the results finalized and announced, which would be the final results."
 
Regardless of educating people how to vote, however, the process, which involves multiple ballots and nearly a dozen steps, worries civil society groups that say it could trip up voters and lead to elevated numbers of null or void votes.
 
Joe Pemagbi, Sierra Leone director for the Open Society Initiative, said voter education started late.
 
"It could have started earlier — I wish it had started earlier. That would have really helped the situation," he said, citing the nation's unusually high illiteracy rate. "Unfortunately, sometimes the educated ones also make some of these mistakes."
 
But for Voters like Sainkudu Mbuya, it's most critical to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
 
"The ten-year rebel war has affected us so much — the transformation is coming out bit by bit, [so] it will take us time to remove that violence out of us, to love one another," he said. "That is what we are preaching now."
 
Hoping to pre-empt a worst-case scenario, government officials have taken precautions: Military, police and election-related officials and observers are the only ones allowed on the roads on election
 
The real test will come with the results, expected by Nov. 26th., when losers must decide whether to accept defeat.
 
If none of the nine presidential candidates wins a clear majority, a run-off is planned for Dec. 8th.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid