A fellow West African’s guide to Sierra Leone’s election

22nd June 2023

Police and protesters clashed on Wednesday when the supporters of the opposition party, the All People’s Congress (APC) accused the electoral commission and its chairman Mohamed Konneh of alleged bias in favour of the ruling party. The protesters are demanding the release of a more detailed voter register, saying the issues they have raised with the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone, ECSL, have not been considered. “We are in the majority. If Konneh knows he is not biased, he should listen to the people of the country because we are in the majority,” a protester said. 13 people are vying for the top job in the West African country.  The winner needs 55 percent of the vote to clinch victory in the first round or it goes into a runoff within two weeks. More than three million people are registered to vote in the coming week. This would mark the country’s fifth presidential election since the end of a brutal 11-year civil war.

Sierra Leone, a West African country, has faced significant political and economic challenges in its history since gaining independence from Britain in 1961, including a devastating civil war that lasted from 1991 to 2002. Following the civil war, Sierra Leone embarked on a path of recovery and reconciliation, but the country continues to face political and economic hurdles.

As Sierra Leone approaches its sixth civilian election, the incumbent president from the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), Julius Maada Bio, seeks re-election against Samura Kamara from the main opposition party, the All People’s Congress (APC). Bio is a retired brigadier in the Sierra Leone Army, who was head of state of Sierra Leone from 16 January 1996 to 29 March 1996. On the other hand, Kamara is a 72-year-old who was the first runner-up in the last presidential election.

Presently, the main issues that the presidential candidates are campaigning on are centred around the country’s economic crisis, rising unemployment, and lack of transparency from the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL). Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world, and many voters are concerned about the high cost of living and unemployment rate of 5.3%.

Meanwhile, it does look like policy choices are not a significant factor in voting choices in Sierra Leone, with ethnic loyalties and preferences looking likely to be a far more reliable guide on how people will choose their elected representatives.

In the lead-up to the polls, there was an incident which posed a threat to the country’s political stability: On 22 February 2023, police fired teargas at the APC supporters in Freetown as they celebrated the return of the newly elected presidential candidate. There were no fatalities, but unconfirmed sources say many were arrested. If this event reoccurs, it could negatively affect how polling results are accepted because there are already accusations of state-sanctioned repression of political rights.

The world watches and hopes that Sierra Leoneans continue to develop their capacity to settle disputes through the democratic process, the ballot box specifically, because the outcome of the election will have a significant impact on Sierra Leone’s democracy and economic development.

This is why the elections need to be allowed to reflect the people’s wishes, and the winning party must address the country’s challenges, including poverty, corruption, and infrastructure development. The majority of votes should decide who the winners are, and the minority’s concerns should be adequately considered in shaping and implementing government policy.

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