Q&A: Sierra Leone general elections

Image source, AP
Image caption,
President Koroma is seeking re-election on the All People's Congress (APC) ticket.

The people of Sierra Leone go to the polls on 17 November to elect a new president, parliament and local councils.

The general election will be the country's third since the 1991-2002 civil war which killed more than 50,000 people.

Since the end of the war, Sierra Leone has made progress towards reconciliation, but poverty and unemployment remain major challenges. A large number of the country's approximately six million people live on less than $1.25 (80p) a day.

How does the electoral system work?

Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly-elected president and a unicameral legislature.

The president is elected by absolute majority. A run-off is triggered if no candidate receives 55% of the vote in the first round.

Voters will also elect 112 members of parliament and 456 local councillors. Twelve local Paramount Chiefs will also be elected indirectly.

Every citizen above 18 years of age and of sound mind has a right to vote. Voter registration is voluntary.

The National Electoral Commission says it has registered more than 2.5 million voters for the poll.

Nine candidates are running for president, the front-runners are:

President Ernest Bai Koroma

Former insurance broker Ernest Bai Koroma, 59, is seeking re-election on the All People's Congress (APC) ticket.

He is an ethnic Temne from northern Sierra Leone.

President Koroma is credited with stimulating economic growth and infrastructure development. However, his critics accuse him of squandering an opportunity for national unity by forming a government dominated by people from his home region.

Julius Maada Bio

Retired Brigadier-General Julius Maada Bio is seeking the presidency with the opposition Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP).

An ethnic Mende from the south of the country, he ruled Sierra Leone between January and March 1996 following a coup. He moved to the US after retiring from the military.

Charles Francis Margai

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
One of the front-runners, Charles Margai, is the nephew of the first premier, Sir Milton Margai

Charles Francis Margai is the candidate for the People's Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC).

The former lawyer is the son of Sierra Leone's second Prime Minister Albert Margai and the nephew of the country's first premier, Sir Milton Margai.

He is an ethnic Mende from the south and previously served as a minister in the government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

Of the 10 parties contesting the election, the three most prominent are:

  • All People's Congress (APC)

The APC is Sierra Leone's ruling party after winning the 2007 elections in which it also secured 59 parliamentary seats.

Formed in 1960, the APC previously ruled the country between 1968 and 1992 and from 1978 to 1991.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Leader of the opposition Sierra Leone People's Party Julius Maada Bio was briefly in power in 1996
  • Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP)

The SLPP was formed in April 1951 by Sir Milton Margai, the first prime minister of independent Sierra Leone.

It draws most of its support from the southern and eastern parts of the country.

Over the past few months, the SLPP has seen several defections to the APC.

  • People's Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC)

The party was formed in late 2005 as a breakaway faction of the SLPP.

In the 2007 presidential election, the PMDC played kingmaker when it supported Mr Koroma in the run-off against Solomon Berewa of the SLPP.

It is largely seen as a southern party.

  • Revolutionary United Front Party

The political manifestation of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) is also contesting the polls. The RUF were accused of committing atrocities and employing child soldiers during the civil war.

They made a poor showing in the elections which immediately followed the war and did not contest the 2007 poll.

Their presidential candidate Eldred Collins is a former spokesman for the group.

Consolidating stability after a decade of civil war and improving living standards are the main issues defining the elections.

Despite significant advances, Sierra Leone remains one of the world's poorest nations.

Inflation currently stands at around 12%, down from 18% in 2011.

The risk of exploitation of ethnic identities for political ends is also an issue. Traditionally, different parties have drawn support from specific ethnic groups.

All political parties signed a deal on 18 May pledging their commitment to a peaceful election.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
President Koroma has invited the ICC to join the observer mission to deter poll violence

However, Sierra Leone has a long history of election-related violence.

On 12 October, a tense stand-off occurred in the capital Freetown when a vehicle convoy belonging to Mr Bio refused to give way to President Koroma's motorcade.

Two weeks later, 10 people were injured by youths in Kono, in the east of the country. The opposition SLPP blamed the APC for the incident. The opposition party also claimed that APC supporters stabbed two of its members in Freetown as they made their way home from a function.

At least 1,500 soldiers have been deployed to assist police in maintaining order during the election.

Meanwhile, President Koroma has invited the International Criminal Court to join the observer mission in a bid to deter violence.

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