By Aroun R. Deen
By Aroun R. Deen
Morocco World News
New York, November 24, 2012
Sierra Leone’s incumbent President, Ernest Bai Koroma, has been re-elected to serve another five-year term in the small West African nation. Mr. Koroma of the ruling All People’s Congress, APC, was Saturday declared the winner by the chairperson of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Christiana Thorpe, a week after voting on November 17th. The President secured 58.7% of votes to defeat and avoid a run-off with his closest rival, Julius Maada Bio, of the Sierra Leone People’s Party, SLPP. Bio got a mere 37.4% of votes during the November 17th polling.
In Sierra Leone, the winning candidate for the presidency must secure at least 55% of votes cast to avoid a run-off. The elections also included those for parliamentary seats and local council offices. Some 87.3% of the country’s electorate voted, making it one of the biggest in the country’s national election history.
Notwithstanding apprehensions about outbreak of chaos on elections day due to pre-election rhetoric, including sharp attacks on the records of particularly Koroma and Bio by some of their supporters, and also as a result of some incidents of violence in the weeks leading to polling, the election itself was conducted without hostility. International and local observers have described it as meeting internationally-recognized threshold for democratic elections.
UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, in a statement, commended the high voter turnout and the remarkable calm displayed by the electorates during voting. He maintained that it was a clear manifestation of Sierra Leoneans’ “desire for peace, democracy and development.”
The Head of the EU observer mission, Richard Howitt, in an earlier briefing, said the elections on Saturday, November 17, were well organized, smooth, conducive to democratic consolidation and largely peaceful, though he expressed concerns over what he regarded as financial bribery of paramount chiefs by the APC. Paramount chiefs are supposed to remain neutral during electioneering. The APC denied the allegation.
Another international observer group, the US-based Carter Center, in its preliminary reports described the election process as peaceful, orderly, transparent, and in general accordance with Sierra Leone’s legal framework and obligations for democratic elections. Though the groups raised concerns over what it calls some limited administrative shortcomings. It said that NEC officials “performed admirably in difficult conditions, and that the people of Sierra Leone turned out in high numbers to cast their ballots freely.”
The West African regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also gave its stamp of approval to the elections. It described it as well conducted, and that the few isolated incidents of irregularities do not affect the credibility of the entire process.
At the national level, the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), a group set up to monitor the activities of all registered parties for the elections, commends the performances of both the parties and NEC for their role during and after the November 17 poll. Its chairman, Justice Tolla Thompson, said that political parties conducted their affairs in a peaceful and lawful manner that respected the Code of Conduct for Political Parties.
Nonetheless, Koroma’s main rival, Bio, and his SLPP party – prior to NEC’s announcement – have been expressing concerns over what they saw as wide-scale fraud by the APC in several polling centers in the northern and western regions and in the diamond-rich Kono, home to Vice President, Sam Sumana, and which is located in the eastern region of the country.
NEC had earlier disputed much of the SLPP claims of fraud. Thorpe, in an earlier statement suggested that evidence of such claims should be reported to the police.
The SLPP has meanwhile already reacted to Koroma’s win. In a statement from their secretariat, the losing party noted “with utter dismal the announcement by the Chairperson of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) on 23 November 2012 of the result of the Presidential Elections…” The release stated further that the party will convene an emergency meeting of its National Executive Council (NEC) on Tuesday, November 27, at their party headquarters in Freetown to determine their next step. They can challenge the validity of the reelection of the president by petitioning the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone, but must do so within seven days following the declaration
President Koroma took the oath of office just hours after he was declared the winner. He appealed for calm. He promised to work in the interest of all Sierra Leone regardless of party affiliations. He also called on his former opponents to join him “in moving the country forward.”
Umaru Fofana, a Sierra Leonean reporter of the BBC, and head of one of the nation’s independent press, Politico, said that “It appears the President’s call for calm is being heeded.” Fofana who drove around the central and west end of Freetown after the announcement reported that carnivals in well-measured manners were going on in those areas. Freetown was one of the strongholds of President Koroma.
With Bio being a former leader of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (NPRC) junta, that overthrew the APC from power in 1992, the APC was more than determined this time not to have him unseat them from power. With some former members of the NPRC now being members of the APC, the former SLPP presidential candidate took the brunt of the APC’s loathing of the junta he previously headed.
The dismal display of the SLPP in this year’s elections stemmed from a number of factors, chief of which were poor organization and inefficient leadership that go back to the start of their search for a possible presidential ticket. Some, even within the hierarchy of the party believe that Maada Bio was the wrong choice at least for this time. The party has also been hampered with divisions within its ranks with some of its members, including some of those who vied for their presidential ticket, switching sides with the APC.
Bio’s underperformance is the worst by the SLPP since 1996 when the country returned to democratic rule. It was Maada Bio himself, who, as outgoing junta ruler, handed over to Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of the same SLPP who had won the presidency that year. Tejan Kabbah secured 59.49% to beat his run-off rival, John Karefa-Smart of the United National People’s Party. Over 50% of the electorates voted in that election.
Kabbah was reelected in 2002 with a landslide of more than 70% of the votes, beating then APC challenger, Ernest Koroma. Koroma quickly conceded defeat. Five years later, in 2007, Ernest Koroma defeated SLPP Vice President, Solomon Berewa, 54.6% to 45.4%. Berewa conceded defeat without delay.
This year’s election was the third since the end of the country’s civil war. However, it was the first organized by the country itself without the help of the United Nations. The first two – conducted by the United Nations, were held in 2002 and 2007 respectively. The admirable performance of the electorates on November 17 was a reflection of what happened in 2002 and 2007.
SLPP supporters are sure to grieve their loss. However, despite the tense campaign bickering and acrimony that defined pre-election’s relations between some of the supporters of both parties, the drive for national unity, peace and progress is deep-seated in the cultural psyche of the ordinary citizen in present-day Sierra Leone. One ardent SLPP supporter here in the United States, Alimamy Rassin Kamara, in his courageous response to Koroma’s wins, said: “We owe it to our country and the people to accept the results for what they are and conduct ourselves in the most peaceful and law-abiding way.”
It is expected that those feelings of despondent and elation will soon give way to one that puts the collective interests of the nation above all else.