Sierra Leone’s president who is running for re-election held his final rally in the capital on the Freetown’s Lumley Beach Tuesday (June 20).
Julius Maada Bio held his final rally in the capital before the polls open on Saturday (June 24).
Voters will also elect MPs and local councils.
Julius Maada Bio is one of 13 candidates vying for the top office. The Sierra Leone People’s Party nominee called for a peaceful election at the end of a tense campaign.
“I want to appeal to everybody, we want peaceful elections. No violence. You have your card, on that day go and vote,” he told his supporter from a stage on Freetown’s Lumley Beach.
Traditional parade-like political street rallies have been banned this year to avoid potential violence.
Macksood Gibril Sesay, a former electoral commissioner, expressed concern that there “wasn’t a process of healing” after deadly riots in August last year.
“Everybody knows that elections are a period where they just need something to spark off and then there will be chaos everywhere.”
The two main parties waited until just a month before elections to release their manifestos.
Since then, the opposition has lambasted the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) for alleged bias in favour of the ruling party, raising speculation that it is laying the groundwork for a court challenge -– a tactic both parties have used in the past.
Disinformation abounds on both sides, and the online space could have a more significant influence on voters than ever this year.
Information Minister Mohamed Rahman Swaray told AFP that internet penetration had risen to nearly 3 million, from 370,000 people in 2018.
At the helm of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), Bio, 59 -– a former coup leader who spent three months as head of state in the 1990s — championed education and women’s rights during his first mandate.
In an interview with AFP, he said he would prioritise agriculture and reducing food imports next.
Kamara, 72 — a former finance and foreign minister who lost to Bio in a 2018 runoff — told AFP he would restore confidence in the country’s economic institutions and bring in foreign direct investment.
He is currently on trial for embezzling public funds while he was foreign minister, in a case his supporters believe is politically motivated.
However, while he has campaigned on economic issues, observers believe the dire financial situation is unlikely to translate directly into a loss for Bio.
Dressed in the colour of the ruling party, Bio’s supporters who attended the Lumley beach rally were optimistic:
”We want to have electricity, of course he’s (ed, Bio) working on it. Right? He’s doing it. We want better water. Of course, he’s doing it,” student Crispin Harding said.
“There are places that are not having light, they’re not having electricity but now, since he became a leader and now we are having those things, we are having those opportunities.”
Memunatu Morovia also explained why she’d vote for Bio: “[…] education is important and improve the resources also is important. So that’s why I love Maada Bio for everything he has done for the Sierra Leoneans”
Most Sierra Leoneans vote on longstanding regional allegiances, and there is a perception that jobs and benefits will flow to regions whose politicians are in power.
A June 14 poll by the IGR, a partner of the pan-African pollster Afrobarometer, forecasts that Bio will win 56 percent of the vote with Kamara receiving 43 percent.
Help educate voters
In the parliamentary election, it forecasts that SLPP will win between 56 and 61 percent of seats, with APC claiming the rest.
Bio’s detractors say the civic space has shrunk on his watch.
Sierra Leone’s score on the US-based democracy advocacy group Freedom House’s annual index fell to 63 percent this year from 66 percent in 2018.
Mohamed Kenewui Konneh, the chief electoral commissioner, said the opposition was focusing more on attacking the body than going out to campaign.
“At the end of the day people will be confused” and not vote, he told AFP, urging the opposition to instead help educate voters on the new proportional representation system.
Polling stations will open on June 24 at 7:00 am and close at 5:00 pm.
Sierra Leone will go to the polls under a new proportional representation system after a last-minute switch from a first-past-the-post system.