News and Views
Sierra Leone Elections 2012: And the winners are… the people of Sierra Leone
It would have been nice to say that ‘after the dust had settled’ there had been a clear result and clear winners in Sierra Leone’s elections. Well, there have been clear results and clear winners announced by the country’s National Electoral Council (NEC), an independent body responsible for conducting all elections in the country.
The elections were a series of various ‘firsts’ for Sierra Leone, including the first time since the end of the 10-year civil war that the country was solely in charge of conducting its own elections, the first time all possible elections took place on the same day (presidential, parliamentary, local and mayoral) and, the first time that people could vote using biometric voter ID. In addition, there were large ‘observer groups’ from several organisations and countries around the world. Among the observer groups were representatives from the African Union, The US-based Carter Centre, the Nigerian Government, to name a few.
The first result to be announced was that of the contest for the presidency. The two main contenders were incumbent Ernest Bai Koroma of the All People’s Congress (APC) and Julius Maada Bio of the main opposition party, The Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). The result, announced two days after polls closed, showed a clear result in favour of Koroma (58.7%) ahead of his nearest rival, Bio, who polled a distant 37.4%. The result meant there was no need for a run-off as Koroma had scored more than the 55% required to avoid a run-off.
It would no count as a ‘proper African election’ if the end of polling and the announcing of results did not bring with them allegations of some type of irregularity.
Almost immediately, Bio’s supporters cried foul, with allegations of vote-rigging, collusion by electoral officials and ballot-box stuffing. At the time of going to press, no one outside the party’s hierarchy has seen the ‘evidence’. Although this has delighted their supporters, it has frustrated everyone else. Most noticeably, the opposition’s claims fly in the face of all reports filed by the plethora of election observers both local and international.
When the parliamentary results were issued, these also showed a clear majority in favour of the ruling party.
There had been suspicions all long that the opposition might oppose any result that did not go in their favour; long before a vote had been cast and even in the 2007 elections, they had tried to remove Dr Christiana Thorpe, the Chairwoman of the NEC, alleging bias. This time, the charges were the same and their evidence was equally thin or non-existent. In presenting their case in court, the party left it to the very last moment possible to do so and after the office where they were due to pay the required fee had closed!
The squabbles about who won and lost have obscured some impressive voting statistics that would be the envy of many democratic countries: voter turnout was 87.3% and only 4.7% were ruled invalid. On polling day, the decision to hold the polls when there was no rain obviously contributed to the high turnout and the generally positive mood among voters.
Away from the post-election disputes, the country still has many challenges ahead. Since independence, apart from brief periods of military rule, the country has been ruled by the two parties that squared up to each other in this year’s polls. There has long been amazement that, this is a country which, given its small size and natural resources, should be among the world’s wealthiest and yet continues to bump along the bottom of the world’s quality of life statistics. Even more amazingly, given the fact of the political dominance of the two main parties, no credible alternative has arrived to challenge them.
And so, at the time of Promota going to press, uncertainty continues as the SLPP advises all it officials elected in these recent polls to boycott until all their “grievances are addressed in full”. The African Union, the UN, the Carter Center and other organisations have urged them to respect what seems to be the will of the people and accept the results of the elections.
Whatever the final outcome of the legal challenges, the social challenges facing the President and the country remain immense. Chief among these are a state education system that has collapsed to the extent that year on year, state schools are returning the worst sets of results in the country’s history, a health sector that is creaking and not yet benefiting the most needy and poor electricity generation to name a few. There have been signs of improvements in some areas including transport and travel infrastructure (better roads, more buses etc), however, there is still a long way to go to address these. What is truly shocking is that these were the same challenges that existed at the time the country gained independence in 1961, not really a lot to show for 51 years of independence.
Sub-Editor, the Promota magazine