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Sierra Leone: What to look out for in the 24 June elections

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Sierra Leone: What to look out for in the 24 June elections

There is a crowded field of 13 candidates running for president. The contenders include incumbent President Julius Maada Bio, whose focus is on improving public education and agricultural productivity, and his main opponent, Samura Kamara, the runner-up from the 2018 elections. There is one woman candidate.  

Alongside the presidential contest, parliamentary and local council elections will also take place under a district block proportional representation system, marking a shift from the constituency-based first-past-the-post system used since 2007.

Samura Kamara

Kamara, from the country’s north-west, has prioritised national cohesion. A former minister of foreign affairs and finance, as well as a former governor of the central bank, his manifesto insists that bringing the country together would be his top priority, as well as reviving the economy and creating jobs.  

He has consistently lashed out at the government, blaming it for the present harsh economic climate and soaring prices of especially essential commodities like food.  

Julius Maada Bio

Maada Bio, a retired army officer, was the military head of state between 1996 and 1996. He took power in 2018 having ousted President Ernest Bai Koroma in an election characterised by accusations of corruption by the incumbent.

Bio has refused to take any blame for the current downturn, saying the economic conditions are a worldwide phenomenon, blaming it on the Covid-19 pandemic and the Ukraine crisis.

He says he will strengthen and expand on his free education programme for primary and secondary school goers. In his campaign manifesto, his main priority will however be food security and an improved economic climate.  

What do voters want?

There has not been much debate on ideas in these elections. Much of the campaigning has bordered on accusations, counteraccusations and recriminations between the party in power until five years ago, and the one in power since.  

But voters are concerned about the bread-and-butter issues – how to make ends meet through job opportunities, education and healthcare. National cohesion has also occupied a significant portion of the discourse especially because of rising tension and the use of ethnic slurs on social media by extremists on both sides.  

Observers say it puts to test the country’s peace which has been threatened in recent weeks and months amid rising tension between supporters of the country’s two oldest political parties – the ruling SLPP and the main opposition APC. This is the fifth time the country will be voting in general elections since the war ended in 2002.  

Is violence expected?

There have been violent incidents in the weeks leading up to voting day with both political parties accusing each other of fermenting trouble. The violence has been mostly in the ruling party’s southeastern strongholds. In Bo, the offices of the APC party were torched. The party accuses the SLPP of “intolerance” and “thuggery”. But the ruling SLPP party says the APC started it all when their supporters attacked and attempted to set on fire the residence of their candidate for Mayor of Bo.  

Also on Sunday 18 June the motorcade of the APC presidential candidate, Samura Kamara, came under attack as he campaigned in the southern Pujehun district with both sides trading accusations.  

The ruling party has also accused the APC of attacking their supporters in Pujehun and in the northern town of Mile 91. And during their final campaign rally in the capital Freetown, a supporter of the SLPP was reportedly killed after an altercation with APC rivals.   

The tension has generally followed the opposition’s complaints that the security forces were being heavy-handed against their supporters and that they lack confidence in the electoral commission. Last week, they issued a 72-hour ultimatum for the resignation of the chief electoral commissioner and all his deputies. They also called for international election experts to come and conduct the polls within three months.   

Once the deadline passed without the demanded resignations, the party issued a statement calling for street protests. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the country’s Peace Commission was locked in closed-door meetings with the APC and the election management bodies. The outcome of that is yet to be determined, while the threat of street protests remains.      

“We have taken their grievances into account and the electoral commission will soon respond to them,” says the Executive Secretary of the Peace Commission.  

How are elections organised?

A total of 3.4 million Sierra Leoneans are set to cast their votes manually through secret ballots. The procedure follows five stages – screening, reunification, reconciliation, sorting, and counting – managed by the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL). The ECSL also oversees the electronic tallying of votes at the district and regional levels.

The process varies for the presidential and parliamentary elections. In the presidential race, a candidate must secure 55% of the total votes for outright victory; otherwise, a run-off election ensues. The parliamentary elections, however, employ a district block proportional representation system. Here, voters endorse their favoured political parties rather than individual candidates. Seats are proportionally allocated based on votes received, provided the party or independent candidate meets the 11.9% threshold.

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