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Opponents Concede Election to Sierra Leone President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah - 2002-05-20

Candidates who lost to Sierra Leone's incumbent President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in last week's election are conceding defeat and indicating they will not contest the vote, despite what they say were irregularities in the balloting. Meanwhile, analysts say the President faces major post-war challenges in his second term.

Ahmad Tejan Kabbah won wide support, many say, because of his role in ending Sierra Leone's brutal 10-year civil war four months ago. Among other things, Sierra Leoneans credit Mr. Kabbah with allowing U.N. peacekeepers and British troops to deploy in the country. He also developed a reputation for making what some say were necessary concessions to the rebels.

Among the first candidates to concede was Pallo Bangura, of the former rebel group's Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP). "[At] the stage where we are, what is important is for us to search for whatever mistake has been made, whatever deficiencies there may have been," said Mr. Bangura. "We should move on and then correct them so that next time around they won't be repeated. The most important is for us as a nation to stick together and move on."

Final results released by Sierra Leone's National Electoral Commission Sunday showed President Kabbah and his Sierra Leone People's Party won by a landslide, with more than 70 percent of the vote.

In second place was Ernest Koroma of the All People's Congress Party, who received 22 percent. In his concession speech Sunday, Mr. Koroma said he believes there were some irregularities in the vote. But like Mr. Bangura, Mr. Koroma said that in the interest of peace, he will not contest the vote.

The RUFP came a distant fourth, with less than two percent of the vote. Analysts say the low support for the former rebel group reflects the Sierra Leonean's people desire for peace. Many in Freetown and throughout Sierra Leone resent the rebels for the atrocities they committed against civilians during the 10-year war.

Sierra Leone is in many respects a different country today than it was before the war. Freedom of the press has increased, with newspapers now at liberty to criticize government officials without fear of retribution. There is no longer a one-party system. The elections last week drew the participation of nine parties.

But some worry not enough has changed. Freetown history professor and author Ibrahim Abdullah has written extensively about the root causes of the Sierra Leonean civil war. He says the conflict was rooted in the frustrations of young people who had no opportunities. He said he wonders whether the political class has learned any lessons from the war.

"By and large, the [problem] of a large number of young men and women out there without a job, is still a factor," said Mr. Abdullah. "If that question is not addressed, I am of the view that the crisis will linger on, but in a different coloration. We won't have what we had, but that aspect will keep driving the politicians back to the wall."

Mr. Abdullah said he believes the government should start using the millions of dollars it is receiving in aid to help average young Sierra Leoneans - not just those who are former combatants.

President Kabbah's second inauguration was held shortly after his victory was announced Sunday. In his inaugural speech, the president called on all Sierra Leoneans to unite behind him to fight against hunger and corruption.