(By Aroun Rashid Deen)
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 17 polling. In Sierra Leone, the winning candidate
for the presidency must secure at least 55% of votes cast to avoid a
run-off. The election also included voting for parliamentary seats and local
council offices. Some 87.3% of the country’s electorate voted, making it
one of the highest recorded in the country’s national election history.
The election itself was conducted peacefully, amid concerns about violence
due to heightened pre-election rhetoric, including sharp attacks on the
records of particularly Koroma and Bio, and incidents of violence in the
weeks preceding polling. International and local observers have described
the election as meeting the internationally-recognized threshold for
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 that 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 election on Saturday, November 17, was 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 traditional leaders who head their
various chiefdoms throughout the country. They maintain enormous influence
over their chiefdom subjects. 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 group raised concerns
over what it called 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
The West African regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African
States (ECOWAS) also gave its stamp of approval to the election. 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, commended the performances of both the parties and NEC for their
role during and after the November 17 poll. Its chairman, Justice Tolla
Thompson, said political parties conducted their affairs in a peaceful and
lawful matter that respected the Code of Conduct for Political Parties.
Nonetheless, Koroma’s main rival, Bio, and his SLPP party – prior to the
NEC’s announcement – had expressed 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 which is in the eastern region of the country.
NEC disputed much of the SLPP claims of fraud. Thorpe, in an earlier
statement suggested that evidence of such claims should be reported to the
The SLPP has meanwhile indicated it intends to contest the results announced
by the NEC and Koroma’s re-election. In a radio broadcast, a day after the
result was announced, Mr. Bio alleged “electoral irregularities including
fake and unstamped Reconciliation and Result Forms, pre-marked ballot
papers, ballot stuffing and over-voting in Kono the Western Area and the
Northern Province....” He promised his party will soon contact members and
supporters on their official line of action. They can challenge the validity
of the election of the President by petitioning the Supreme Court of Sierra
Leone, but must do so within seven days following the NEC’s 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 for the BBC, and head of one of the
nation’s independent newspapers, Politico, said 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 relatively
subdued celebrations in those areas. Freetown was one of the strongholds of
With Bio being a former leader of the National Provisional Ruling Council
(NPRC) military junta that overthrew the APC from power in 1992, the APC was
more than determined not to have him unseat them from power again. With some
former members of the NPRC now members of the APC, Bio took the brunt of the
APC’s loathing of the junta he previously headed.
The dismal performance of the SLPP in this year’s elections stemmed from a
number of factors, chief of which were poor organization and leadership
going back to the start of their search for a possible presidential ticket.
Some, even within the hierarchy of the party believe Maada Bio was the wrong
choice at this time. The party has also been hampered with divisions within
its ranks, with some of its members, including some who vied for the
presidential nomination, jumping ship to the APC.
Bio’s poor performance has been the worst by the SLPP since 1996, when the
country was returned to democratic rule. It was Maada Bio himself, who, as
outgoing junta ruler, ushered in the Ahmad Tejan Kabbah-led SLPP government
that 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 electorate 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 then SLPP Vice President,
Solomon Berewa, 54.6% to 45.4%. Berewa, too, conceded defeat.
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 electorate 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 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, says: “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
It is expected that those feelings of despondency and elation, on the part
of the winning side, will soon give way to one that puts the collective
interests of the nation above all else.
Aroun Rashid Deen is a freelance journalist. He lives in New York City