11.28.2012

Reports of Violence, Curfews, & Malpractices after Sierra Leone Election

The votes are in (well, I guess they have been in for about a week now), but Sierra Leone’s President, Earnest Bai Koroma, has been reelected in what is being considered and a free and fair election…at least until recently when a curfew was imposed in the towns of Bo and Kenema and until violence broke out, which I will discuss in more detail towards the end of this post.

Unsurprising Results
As I explained in posts earlier this year, Sierra Leone’s political arena is changing, namely with the rising popularity of the People’s Movement for Democratic Change Party (PMDC). However, results from this most recent election show that the party’s popularity is not large enough to make much of a difference (yet) in the largely bipartisan politics.

It was pretty much agreed upon that the election would result in Koroma’s reelection given the power of incumbency and Koroma’s wide support-base in the Western Area. However, many were concerned about the potential for violence, especially with the UN envoy being dismissed earlier this year and with the power of okada drivers, many of whom were formal rebels who might be easily persuaded to participate in violence in order to gain some money.

As the Sierra Leone National Electoral Commission said in a statement:

The elections were generally peaceful. Both the polls and tallying processes were observed by various national and international missions/groups, other democratic institutions, Embassies and the media (both print and electronic)
The Results
The final polling results show incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma of the All People’s Congress (APC) winning with 58.7% of the votes and with Julius Maada Bio of the rival Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) coming in second with 37.4%. Charles Francis Margai, the candidate of the People’s Movement for Democratic Change, received the third largest number of votes, but with only 1.3% of the total votes cast, which is significantly less than the two main parties.

Surprisingly the Revolutionary United Front Party, the political party which sprung from the rebel group RUF, received .6% of total votes cast, which makes its candidate, Eldred Collins, the 5th highest voted for candidate of the 9 total candidates.

                                   Final Elections Results
Despite the PMDC and Margai’s growing popularity, especially in Bo town, it was unable to win enough votes to make a difference in the results in either direction. With the PMDC drawing largely from the South, it had the potential to draw many votes away from the SLPP, whose stronghold is usually the entire south. However, even if all the people who voted for the PMDC were former supporters of the SLPP, their transfer of support to the PMDC would not have made any difference in the final election results.

Furthermore, despite Koroma’s and the APC’s strategy to support and encourage the creation of new, smaller political parties in order to draw votes away from the SLPP, their creation and existence in the election hardly made any difference.

   Majority Candidate per District
What can be deducted from this election is that although Sierra Leone is considered a multiparty democracy, it is primarily bipartisan. Furthermore, when the votes from each district in the country are tallied, it is clear that politics are quite regional and ethnically based.  The APC and Koroma (who comes from the Northern town of Kenema) won every district in the North, which also happens to be a Temne ethnic majority region. On the other hand, Bio, who comes from Bo town, and the SLPP won every Southern region, all of which happen to have a Mende ethnic majority.

Given the dense population in the Western Area, particularly in the capital Freetown, the candidate who wins the majority of votes in the Western Area is usually predicted to win the overall election. This proved to be consistent in this election, with Koroma winning around 72% of votes in the rural and urban Western Area.

The National Electoral Commission reported that 9,268 polling stations (97.6% of all polling stations) entered their results. The average voter turnout was 87.3%, which is much larger than the 75.8% turnout in the 2007 Sierra Leone elections (and if I may note, much higher than the ~57% voter turnout in the most recent U.S. election). Only 4.7% of votes were considered to be invalid.  

The Sierra Leonean newspaper, Sierra Express Media, explained the reaction of Bo town residents, who live in the 2nd largest city in the country, which also happens to be the SLPP stronghold. Despite being an SLPP stronghold, Bo APC supporters still expressed their happiness:

A sea of red has engulfed Bo town as citizens have come out in their Chinese numbers to rejoice and praise President Koroma for his unyielding hard work and love of the country; which in turn has secured him another term to fulfill his dream and the dream of the nation in re-developing the country and regaining its title as the Athens of Africa.
Disputed Results
 Julius Maada Bio, the SLPP candidate, however, is not taking loosing lightly. He has accused the APC of voter intimidation and over voting, both of which are being looked into by the proper authorities. Bio has threatened to “leave no stone unturned” in his investigations of the election results, which has some citizens fearing he might resort to violence. However, as an article by the Patriotic Vanguard states:

…Elites in the country say with the presence of the International Criminal Court observers in the country, any attempt to cause the country to slide back into chaos, would make whoever is found to be behind the cause of such scenario would be a potential candidate for the International Criminal Court.
Protests, Youth Violence, and Curfews in Bo and Kenema
Although most news agencies have failed to cover this, I have received news from contacts in Bo town that there has been a dusk-till-dawn curfew imposed and violence has indeed broken out in some areas. The violence is a result of disgruntled youth who dispute the election results and who claim that certain ballot boxes have failed to be counted. They have taken to the streets shouting “No Maada Bio for President, No Sierra Leone” while throwing stones at the Bo Regional Tally Center.  Francis Hindowa of the SLPP blamed the National Electoral Commission for having “caused all this”, while several employees of the NEC insist that the ballots have been counted and the results have been recorded. There  have been reports of houses being destroyed and shootings in Bo town.

In Kenema, youth who support the APC walked to the SLPP regional office in their jubilation celebration, but they were met with resistance from the local police who then worked to divert all traffic headed towards the office.  Other reports claim that

[Some youth] went ahead to throw stones at the compound of some SLPP supporters in the city. Others cut down palm trees, the symbol of the SLPP, which they dragged through the streets of Kenema, as a sign of defeat against the SLPP.
A curfew has also been imposed in Kailahun, a district in which Bio won the majority of votes.

An Uncertain Future
Although there are no reports of widespread violence, it will remain important to keep an eye on the investigation proceedings and protests in the coming weeks. My thoughts are that the SLPP will eventually support the election results and no significant violence will come of the situation; however, the amount of time it will take for the SLPP to peacefully accept the results is unknown.

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