Elections in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone: Kabbah Sweeps Polls

Sierra Leone elections
A supporter of Sierra Leonean President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah's Sierra Leone People's Party arrives for a May 11, 2002 rally in Freetown (Photo: AFP).  

The presidential and parliamentary elections held on May 14 in Sierra Leone gave incumbent President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and his ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) an overwhelming victory. President Kabbah won 70 percent of votes cast, while his main challenger, Ernest Bai Koroma of the All People’s Congress (APC) party, scored only 23 percent. As the new Parliament started sitting on June 25, the ruling SLPP commanded an absolute majority, holding 83 of 112 parliamentary seats. Of 29 seats remaining, the APC, which ruled the country from 1968 to 1992, obtained 27. The remaining two went to former junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma’s Peace and Liberation Party (PLP).

The SLPP’s substantial margin of victory has been at the center of discourse in the local press. In a May 20 commentary, the Salone Times expressed the fears of many Sierra Leoneans that SLPP MPs would use their massive majority to endorse government policies and laws with executive fiat. “The SLPP victory is not just overwhelming but alarming,” the paper wrote. “With more than a two-thirds majority in Parliament...they may be tempted to run [rough]shod over everyone else.” For Di People (May 20) concurred, voicing a fear that the government would become “a one-party system where everything will be rubber-stamped to suit the whims and caprices of the ruling SLPP.”

Echoing similar fears in the Standard Times (May 27), Koyie Mansaray called on parliamentarians to rise above party interest, and encouraged civil-society groups and the press “to be on their toes, monitoring everything that goes on at Tower Hill [Parliament] from now on.”

Other publications speculated that regional and tribal loyalties, along with intimidation of voters, accounted for the SLPP’s huge victory. The ruling SLPP, which draws the bulk of its members from the Mende tribe of the south and east, swept almost all the votes in both regions. Sierra Leone’s newest paper, Peep (May 21), observed that “not only was the voting in the south and east predominantly regional in character, there are disturbing reports of non-Mende voters being intimidated and harassed.”

The APC leader, Ernest Koroma, told For Di People (May 21), “The SLPP used secret societies and traditional rulers to intimidate APC supporters in the respective chiefdoms which prevented many from voting for the APC for fear of reprisals.” But writing in the Standard Times (May 27), Ibrahim Karim-Sei argued that the opposition’s poor showing was due to the parties’ internal problems: “The APC’s past record is nothing to write home about....The Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP) has an image problem [too]. So rather than saying that the election results reveal an ethnic division, we must be honest enough to see that some of the parties had image problems long before the election.”

Despite his defeat, Koroma remained upbeat. He told the Concord Times (May 21) that the APC would “definitely not allow [President Kabbah] to have a free ride on constitutional matters.” Soon after the election, however, the president swore in his attorney general and minister of justice nominee without parliamentary scrutiny and approval—a move that the Bar Association announced it would contest in court.