WEST AFRICA–– Sierra Leone’s two historical and traditional rival political parties have christened their presidential candidates and vice–presidential candidates to stand in a crucial election in March 2018.
Political commentators and international election experts say the country’s ongoing process illustrates a standard of stability since the end of its civil conflict in 2002.
Foreign Minister Samura Kamara and the deputy speaker of parliament, Chernor Maju Bah, have been named by President Ernest Bai Koroma to lead the All People’s Congress (APC) party as the presidential and vice-presidential candidates for next year’s poll.
Sources in the APC told Globe Afrique that the choices were made late Sunday at an APC congress in the provincial city of Makeni, the sitting president’s hometown, located in northern Sierra Leone.
Foreign Minister Kamara, 66, is a noted and regarded economist.
Previously an official of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), he has also served as his country’s minister of finance and governor of the central bank.
The APC’s edits provide for the election or appointment of presidential and vice-presidential candidates by the party’s leadership.
Meanwhile, former military leader and retired brigadier general, Julius Maada Bio, 53, was selected over the weekend by the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) as its presidential candidate during the party’s congress in Freetown.
Bio, one of the young military leaders who restored Sierra Leone from chaos and disunity was instrumental in returning the country to civilian rule in the late 1990s with the election of former president Ahmed Tejan Kabba.
Bio, however, lost to incumbent President Koroma in the 2012 vote when he returned to politics after a stay in Ghana.
Eyewitnesses say tension is heavy in the country as the election periods nears closer.
Officials of the country’s National Electoral Commission, including its chairman, N’fah Alie Conteh. have received unspecified death threats which police are currently investigating.
Unlike neighboring Liberia where President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is accused of tampering with the presidential election process, President Koroma seems dedicated to a free, credible and transparent electoral process in Sierra Leone.
He said, “We are on the verge of conducting another round of elections. Elections that would consolidate the gains and standards we have maintained in the development of our democracy,” Koroma said in a statement.”
Adding, “Let it be known that our commitment remains unshakeable in ensuring that the March 2018 elections are more transparent and more credible.”
Koroma, a former insurance executive came to power in 2007 after the candidate of the SLPP, then vice president and former attorney general, Solomon Berewa.
Constitutional term limits barred him from seeking re-election after serving two terms.
Thirteen parties have already registered for the vote, with seven more currently going through the registration process, said the,
Patrick Hamilton, the chairman of the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), told Globe Afrique that thirteen political parties have been registered for the March 2017 election and an additional seven political parties are navigating the registration process.
Sierra Leone, rich in natural resources ––diamond, gold, bauxite, fertile land and––is one of the poorest countries in the world.
Apart from struggling with the effect of a rebel war blamed on former Liberian president Charles Taylor and an ex-soldier in the Sierra Leonean army, Corporal Foday Sankoh, the country experienced an Ebola outbreak from 2014 –2016 that killed 4,000 people, and a mudslide disaster in August that left at least 500 people dead and more than 800 missing.
Historically, the country has also been entrenched in excessive corruption by government officials since its founding.
Since taking office in 2007, President Koroma has managed to change or reduce the perception of corruption in government by ensuring basic accountability, transparency and the rule of law.
Still, an estimated 60 percent of Sierra Leoneans live below the national poverty line, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Youth unemployment is estimated at above 50 percent even though under Koroma, the country has made great progress in infrastructural development and in the consolidation of peace.