Will all be well after the Sierra Leone vote?

Supporters of the victorious All People's Congress (APC) celebrate in Freetown upon news of the election of Ernest Bai Koroma in 2007. Photo | FILE 

After a clearly divisive election, Sierra Leone's new government is under pressure to re-unite the nation.

The need for this is not lost on President Ernest Bai Koroma himself, although he seems to be finding it difficult with the opposition Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) refusing to concede defeat. His All People's Congress's (APC) handling of their victory celebrations isn't helping either.

Presently, all eyes are on the SLPP headquarters, where party bigwigs were meeting Tuesday to decide which direction to take as regards the final outcome of the November 17 polls.

It could be the decision that makes or breaks Sierra Leone, which has made so much inroads in its post-war reconstruction effort.

The options for the opposition are few. The first is to seek legal redress.

The international community, including most recently the UN and US, have been urging this.

The SLPP can also withhold participation in government at all levels, including parliament and local councils.

A third option, according to Ibrahim Tommy, Executive Director of the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, is for the party to invite the international community to look into their grievances through a Special Committee.

“This is less likely to happen, given the fact that the international community as much as many Sierra Leoneans are just happy to move on,” he says.

“Whatever happens, I hope their complaints can be impartially and objectively investigated with the view to providing an accurate account of the events on November 17.”

If the SLPP decides to go to court, it should brace itself for long and strenuous years ahead for a petition that is almost likely to be dismissed, as was its 2007 election petition.

It took the Supreme Court the whole of the first term of the government to hand down a ruling on that suit challenging the legality of National Election Commission chairperson Christiana Thorpe's decision to cancel substantial amounts of votes from SLPP strongholds.

It is therefore less likely that the opposition will trust the Supreme Court.

Outright boycott of governance doesn’t sound like a wise choice either.

Ethnic voting

The results of the elections show that Sierra Leone's voting pattern is still divided along regional and ethnic lines.

The incumbent APC has always won the Temne-dominated northern region, and the SLPP the Mende dominated south-east.

Only that this time round APC ventured a little deeper into what used to be an SLPP stronghold in the eastern diamond-rich district of Kono, dominated by the Kono people, from where the First Lady and Vice-President hail.

That, coupled with the seeming death of the People's Movement For Democratic Change (PMDC) of Charles Francis Margai, appears to have shored up the APC's numbers.

Parliamentary results announced Monday gave the incumbent 67 of the 112 seats, 7 more than they had in the last parliament.

The SLPP has 42 seats, one less than in the last parliament.

Given its total control in parliament, boycott could be a welcome idea for the APC.

It already has the endorsement of the international community.

The danger though is how close that brings the country to the beginning of the end of multi-party democracy, a familiar terrain for the party.

But the regional voting pattern hardly concerns anyone here as much as the reaction of the losing side in every election.

Amid sustained calls by party officials, SLPP youths have been making scenes in their eastern and southern stronghold cities of Kenema and Bo, where police imposed night time curfews to prevent looming violence.

While many seem to think of a government of national unity as a solution, Tommy says what matters is for the president's appointments to transcend regional divisions.

“To have a regionally or ethnically biased cabinet or appointment would be a non-starter…The President must now make deliberate efforts, with support from the opposition, to re-unite the country. He must do so through his development policies, pronouncements, and interactions,” he says.

“Talking about interactions, it is a shame that throughout the electioneering period, the two main candidates did not shake hands publicly or privately. This was perhaps one of the lowest points in the entire electoral process.”

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