Sierra Leoneans go to polls amid fears of violence

Sierra Leoneans go to polls amid fears of violence

Sierra Leone is holding a general election today amid a tense campaign that has seen violence erupt between rival supporters.

The main opposition party claimed that one of its followers was killed by police on Wednesday, a charge that the police denied.

Both major parties have been accused of attacking their opponents.

The election comes at a time of economic hardship, rising prices, and worries about national unity.

The voters are electing a president, MPs and councillors in the fifth election since the end of the civil war in 2002.

The war claimed about 50,000 lives, but since then the country has had a history of mostly peaceful, free and credible elections, according to Marcella Samba Sesay, chairperson of the NGO National Elections Watch.

The 3.3 million registered voters are loyal to their parties, so the campaigns have focused on mobilizing their bases rather than debating policy issues.

Who are the candidates? President Julius Maada Bio, 59, of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) is seeking a second five-year term. His main challenger among the 12 contenders is Dr Samura Kamara, 72, of the All People’s Congress (APC).

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This is a rematch of the 2018 race, which saw Mr Bio win by a narrow margin after a second round run-off.

How much violence has there been? There has been more violence than five years ago, according to the West Africa Network for Peace-building Sierra Leone. It has recorded 109 violent incidents since April.

This week, the APC said one person was shot dead by security forces as its supporters gathered for a protest at its headquarters in Freetown on Wednesday.

The police alleged that shots came from inside the APC building.

Dr Kamara also said that his convoy was attacked and there were reports that the APC office was torched in the city of Bo last weekend.

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The SLPP said that it also faced attacks in opposition strongholds.

President Bio has called for “peaceful elections” and “no violence”. The African Union has also expressed concerns over reported incidents of violence and intimidation in parts of the country.

Sierra Leoneans have been worried by campaigners’ rhetoric, Reuters news agency reports.

“I want peace. I am scared by the high level of hatred I see on social media by political extremists on both sides,” a student from Freetown who wanted to remain anonymous told Reuters.

What about women? This election follows a landmark law that says women must make up 30% of all positions in both the public and private sector – including in parliament.

But analysis from Sierra Leone’s Institute for Government Reform (IGR) suggest that the next parliament will not meet this target.

Parties have put forward lists of candidates running in each of the country’s districts to be elected on a proportional representation basis. But according to the IGR, not enough women are placed high enough on those lists to ensure that the 30% threshold is reached.

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Out of the 13 candidates running for president only one is a woman – Iye Kakay who is not well-known.

How does the election work? The APC has also raised doubts about the transparency of the counting process and has questioned the electoral commission’s ability to hold fair elections.

The commission has defended itself, saying it has put measures in place to ensure the credibility of the voting and counting process.

Results should be known within 48 hours of polls closing.

To win the presidential race, the leading candidate must secure 55% of the votes cast, otherwise a run-off will be held between the two candidates with the highest number of votes.

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