Sierra Leone, the tiny West African nation that has faced years of war and recently, protracted Ebola scourge, heads for the polls on 7th March in a parliamentary and presidential election. OMONU NELSON examines the issues that may determine which of the country’s two leading party wins the election.
After a lull that characterised the announcement of the date for Sierra Leone general election, which pitched opposition parties and Civil society groups against Earnest Bai Korea’s ruling All People’s Congress (APC), the people of the impoverished tiny West African country will file out on 7 March to choose the next president of the country, yet to recover from massive Ebola outbreak
The tenure of the country’s president Earnest Bi Koroma ended in late November 2017, and the constitution of Sierra Leone makes clear that elections should take place around three months after the end of incumbent’s tenure. At the same time, those in elected offices wanting to stand for the presidency have to resign a year ahead of the vote.
The election is coming as a huge relief, as there were other concerns of a ploy to avoid an election in early 2018 at all. Several of Mr Koroma’s supporters say that he has faced a massive disadvantage because of the Ebola epidemic, which occupied his time and resources in office and prevented the fulfilment of his mandate. They had, at times, even argued that he should be allowed to continue on beyond the usual term limit. Such an extension, analysts say has a latent risk to political stability.
To ensure hitch-free, credible and rancour-free election, an ECOWAS Mission of 15 Long-Term Observers (LTOs) has since arrived Sierra Leone for the elections. The team is part of a larger 55-member ECOWAS Observation Mission led by Liberia’s former Interim President, Prof. Amos Sawyer, who will be arriving along with the Short-term observers.
The regional observers will be deployed across Sierra Leone’s 16 administrative districts for the elections being contested by 16 presidential candidates, including two women, and more than 700 contenders for the 144-seat unicameral parliament. One hundred and thirty-two of the lawmakers will be elected directly complemented by 12 slots for Paramount Chief Members of Parliament.
The Sierra Leone constitution provides that a presidential candidate must obtain at least 55 percent of the votes for an outright win otherwise the two frontrunners will square up in a run-off vote within two weeks after the declaration of the results of the first round.
The ECOWAS Mission, which includes legal, elections, constitutional, gender, civil society and media experts, and secretariat staff of the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) are deployed by the ECOWAS Commission in line with the regional protocol on democracy and good governance, which mandates ECOWAS to support member States holding elections. The Mission is supported by a Technical team from the ECOWAS Commission.
ECOWAS, after contributing to end the 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone has continued to support the consolidation of peace and democracy in the country, which has remained on the bottom of the Human Development Index with some 70 percent of its estimated seven million population under the poverty line, despite being blessed with abundant mineral resources including diamond, bauxite, titanium and gold.
This is the fourth multi-party election in Sierra Leone since the end of its civil war in 2002, but the first time that authorities in the country would be entirely responsible for the electoral process following the departure of the UN Mission in 2014.
ECONEC conducted a Needs Assessment Mission to Sierra Leone in July 2017 led Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, President of its governing board and Chair of the National Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) Nigeria. This was followed by an advocacy that resulted in the pledge of some logistic support to Sierra Leone by Nigeria.
ECOWAS has also carried out a pre-election fact-finding Mission to Sierra Leone which involved consultations with various stakeholders to ensure peaceful, credible and successful elections for the consolidation of peace and democracy in the country and the region.
As the contest for who succeeds Bi Koroma heats up, accusations have started trending about endorsement by an African statesman and former Nigerian leader, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo but he has denied endorsing former Director General of United Nations Industrial Organisation [UNIDO], Dr Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella for the presidency of Sierra Leone.
Speaking while receiving some stakeholders , the former leader said he at no time made any endorsement during the birthday party of Prof Pat Utomi which was attended by Dr Yumkella.
He explained that he only reviewed how he assisted the opposition leader to emerge, as the Director General of UNIDO, stressing that at no time was any reference made to the forthcoming election in the West African country.
Obasanjo who also expressed displeasure at the misrepresentation of his speech said he remains father of all in such a contest, stressing it was not in his habit to endorse candidate in national polls across Africa.
He affirmed that Nigeria and Sierra Leone enjoyed deep diplomatic, business and friendly relations, positing that his expectations was that the March 7 election will be peaceful, free and fair.
The incumbent party in Sierra Leone says it has worked well enough to win a third Term in a row. On the other hand, the opposition thinks it is their turn to bail the nation from what they think has been a poor performance by the incumbent. Also a seeming Third Force is emerging with the conviction that the ruling party and main opposition party this time round should both be placed in the opposition for the first time.
Other issues that Sierra Leone’s election has thrown up is that, in Sierra Leone votes are not based on party ideologies or issues or individual candidates but on the basis of party colors. People sometimes even say even if a candidate is a chimpanzee, it will be voted for as long as it is their party’s choice. This is how bad political situation in the country has become. What is very clear is that since the return to multi-party, none of the two foremost political parties have won elections to enter a third term in a row.
The SLPP did not achieve that feat in 2012 and analyst are doubt if the APC make it. Beyond this there is a school of thought that believes a Third Force is necessary to change the political landscape. A win for a third party will generate very interesting responses and reactions among the populace.
A win for the ruling All Peoples Congress will mean that the party has fully regained its former stature before and during the One Party Dictatorship. That was the time the APC had a firm grip on the country and the opposition SLPP was dismantled piece by piece until it finally reached its colossal demise and the subsequent declaration of the One Party System of Governance.
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