Sierra Leone: Temporary ban on runoff election lifted | Africa | DW | 26.03.2018

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Sierra Leone: Temporary ban on runoff election lifted

The country's delayed presidential election runoff will go ahead on Saturday, the National Electoral Commission said in a statement. But there are concerns that events of the past few days may impact voter turnout.

Sierra Leone's Supreme Court has approved the election commission's request to delay Tuesday's runoff presidential vote until the weekend after the lifting of an interim injunction that had stalled preparations.

Lawyers for the National Electoral Commission (NEC) said the injunction order had thrown the country's election into "chaos." 

The upcoming vote will see ruling party candidate Samura Kamara face off opposition candidate and leader of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), Julius Maada Bio.

Bio won the initial March 7 election by a thin margin, securing 43.4 percent of the vote compared to Kamara's 42.7 percent. But because neither candidate secured the 55 percent of the votes needed to govern outright, a runoff election was scheduled for March 27.

Fraud claims behind the injunction

On Saturday, justice Abdulrahman Mansaray granted an interim injunction which would prevent the runoff election being held as scheduled, based on fraud claims made by a lawyer linked to the ruling All People's Congress (APC).

Leaders of 27 civil society organizations issued an official statement which condemned the initial ruling of the Supreme Court, claiming it was a ploy by the APC to manipulate the outcome of the election.

Sierra Leone police are investigating approximately 200 cases of alleged electoral fraud around the country. Most incidents involve over-stuffed ballot boxes — in some cases by up to more than 200 percent. 

Read more: Sierra Leone: Voting for change or more of the same?

Bio addresses government corruption

Speaking with DW the day after the initial injunction, Bio expressed concern over government corruption in Sierra Leone in the wake of the APC's request to halt the runoff.

Sierra Leone presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio

Opposition leader Julius Maada Bio will take part in the presidential runoff election

"[Corruption] is a threat to our development and a threat to the security of this country," he said, "we have put in place measures like the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). We have the necessary laws. What is lacking is the political will to support them."

Incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma will leave office after serving the constitutional limit of two five-year terms, however, the opposition has repeatedly accused him of corruption and mismanagement.

Bio had called on the people of Sierra Leone to come out and demand their hard-fought-for right to democracy and peace, in the event the runoff election was not carried out as planned. However, he still supported the actions of the NEC. 

"The NEC has been doing its best," he said, "I can say they have been 110 percent in my personal estimation of their work. We have had issues with them, we've expressed our concerns to them, and they've always addressed them."

Voters in Sierra Leone queue to cast their ballot

Many voters in Sierra Leone need to travel to parts of the country where they are registered to vote

Major implications for voter turnout

Although the runoff has been given the all-clear, observers suggest the uncertain situation over the past few days may influence voter turnout.

A significant portion of Sierra Leone's electorate must travel to other regions of the country where they are registered to vote, leading to the largest mass movement of people within the country since the end of the civil war in 2002. In the lead-up to today's decision, many were unsure whether or not they should travel, given how problematic it could be to reach their polling center at short notice.

This month's election has also led to a spate of politically-motivated violence, hate speech and tribal-based messages of dissatisfaction. The authorities have implemented a so-called Military Aid to Civil Power (MACP) policy, a form of joint military, police and civilian control which is generally implemented when the security level is raised to a higher level than 'normal' circumstances.

The National Electoral Commission also placed a temporary ban on the distribution of polling materials across the country following the injunction.

The elections have brought everyday life in Sierra Leone to a near standstill for many, with schools and the business community particularly affected.

Watch video 05:04

Sierra Leone: Exclusive interview with presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio

Claudia Anthony and Adrian Kriesch contributed to this article

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