Thursday, April 05, 2018

Opposition Leader Sworn in as Sierra Leone President After Run-off
Peaceful election follows pattern of democratic polls in west Africa

Financial Times

Julius Maada Bio, an opposition leader who was briefly a leader of a junta during Sierra Leone’s civil war, has been sworn in as the west African country’s new president after winning a runoff vote.

The retired brigadier takes over from Ernest Bai Koroma who was in power since 2007 and was obliged to step down after serving his constitutionally mandated two terms.

Mr Maada Bio’s victory comes shortly after a peaceful election in neighbouring Liberia where two-term leader Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf stood down in January to make way for former footballer George Weah. The two elections in what, during the 1990s, was a troubled region consolidate a pattern of regular transfers of power through the ballot box in west Africa, now arguably the most democratic part of the continent.

Opposition candidates defeated the incumbents in presidential elections in Nigeria and Ghana in 2015 and 2016 respectively. And last year, after 23 years ruling Gambia, Yahya Jammeh was forced by the threat of regional military action to cede power to Adama Barrow, a political neophyte who had surprisingly defeated him in an electoral contest.

In Sierra Leone, after a tense few days where counting was briefly halted and internet connections cut, Mr Maada Bio was sworn in late on Wednesday shortly after results were released showing that he had won 51.8 per cent of the vote.

The candidate of the incumbent All People’s Congress (APC), foreign minister Samura Kamara, said he would challenge the result over what he said were “electoral irregularities”.

Electoral turnout was marginally down for the March 31 runoff compared with the first round, but was still reported as 81 per cent. The runoff itself was delayed after a member of the APC filed an injunction related to alleged ballot tampering.

“The fact that more than 80 per cent of eligible voters took to the polls in the run-off is a strong indication of the confidence that Sierra Leoneans had in the electoral process,” said Tom Vens, EU ambassador to Sierra Leone. The elections were mostly peaceful, he added. The EU was one of several international election observers.

With the majority of parliamentary seats in APC hands — as opposed to that of the new president’s Sierra Leone People’s party — the election result raises hopes for improved accountability, analysts said.

“This is a significant result and a few months ago, an unexpected one,” said Alex Vines, head of the Africa programme at the UK’s Chatham House, who added that Mr Kamara had been expected to score a narrow victory. He said the presidential-parliamentary split would test Mr Maada Bio’s resolve to participate in constructive and collective politics.

A pressing task for the new president will be to spread growth more evenly and boost revenue from the mining of diamonds, iron, rutile and other resources. Some estimates put youth unemployment at 70 per cent.

Corruption is a problem, with disputes still lingering over lost funds allocated for the Ebola crisis in 2015. The previous government was also criticised over its response to mudslides that killed hundreds of people in Freetown, the capital, in August.

The new administration will also be expected to satisfy International Monetary Fund requirements for budget adjustments in order to restart a five-year, $224m programme. Infrastructure projects, including the $318m Mamamah airport and adjacent economic city, which will be funded and built by Chinese companies, could be reviewed. 

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