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'I Epitomize Change,' Says Sierra Leone Opposition Candidate

The man who won Sierra Leone’s first round presidential election says he expects Sierra Leoneans to elect him president in the September 8 run-off because he represents change. In the final results announced Saturday, Ernest Bai Koroma of the opposition All People’s Congress (APC) party got 44.3 percent of the vote while incumbent Vice President Solomon Berewa of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) received 38.3 percent.

Koroma told VOA he expects Sierra Leoneans to elect him in the run-off because he has what it takes to move the country forward.

“I epitomize the change that Sierra Leoneans are yarning for. I believe in me is an embodiment of a new direction in the politics of the country. I am coming from a private sector background; I have not been tinted with corruption over the period. I have in me what it takes to move Sierra Leone to the next level, a level that requires dynamism and leadership, a level that requires some visionary leadership, a level that will take Sierra Leone out of its present doldrums; a Sierra Leone that water supply is not available and electricity is diminishing,” he said.

Koroma described Sierra Leone’s current economy as characterized by low productivity, high youth unemployment and non-performance infrastructure. He said he’s not just an outside critic but would take immediate steps if elected to correct the ills of the economy.

“I believe when I come in, I will start by emphasizing on the restoration of our basic utilities, electricity and water supply. Additionally, I believe that government should disengage as much as possible to allow the private sector to kick off. My would be the situation wherein we would create the enabling environment by reducing the bureaucratic process that people go through to establish business, by ensuring that the judiciary becomes independent and efficient, and that corruption is given a zero tolerance,” Koroma said.

Koroma brushed off criticisms by some Sierra Leoneans that the APC under the late President Siaka Stevens, who founded the party, was a repressive party. He said there is a difference between Stevens’ APC and the APC of today.

"Well, in the first place, you are talking about two different personalities. Secondly, we are coming into the realms of power at two different styles. At the time of Siaka Stevens, I would not say that democracy was not practiced, but we had all over Africa a one-party system, and you know the problems that are associated with the one-party system of government. Now every government in Africa is bound by the imperatives of democracy, good governance, and transparency. I am sure that with this, and knowing that Sierra Leoneans are now expecting more than they were expecting in days of Siaka Stevens, one has no choice but thread along the path of democracy, transparency and accountability,” he said.

Koroma said any criticism of repressiveness during the Siaka Stevens APC government should be directed at the ruling SLPP because he said most of those in the SLPP today were members of Siaka Stevens’ government.

Some Sierra Leoneans are said to be concerned that the run-off election could be marred by violence sparked mostly by allegiance to ethnicity and regionalism.

Koroma said if elected he would do away with tribalism by forming an inclusive government.

“In the first place, our party is a broad-based party. It is national in character both in the structure and the party leadership and the participation we have in the party. Even before being elected, I have made the point very clear that mine would be a government of inclusiveness, and as I am talking with you, we have forged an alliance with the PMDC (Peoples Movement for Democratic Change), PMDC that is considered to be a southeastern party. Beyond that, when we win the election, I am going to put up a government that is national in character wherein every facet of the society, every district of the country will participate in the government,” Koroma said.