The third general election since Sierra Leone’s long civil war ended in 2002 took place on the 17th of November. Citizens could vote for their President, 112 parliamentary seats and 456 local council seats.

The presidency can only be won with at least 55% of the vote. [1] The two leading contenders were: the current President, Ernest Bai Koromo of the All People's Congress (APC), and Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP). Although there is no female presidential candidate, the country saw its first female vice-presidential candidate, Kadi Sesay from the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). However, in the parliamentary races there are not many other women running: of 586 candidates competing for 112 parliamentary seats, just 38 are women. In addition to this disappointing number of female parliamentary candidates, there are only 337 women, out of 1,283 candidates, running in local council elections.[2]

Ten years since the civil war, this election is key to prove Sierra Leones intent to stabilize its fragile democracy and voters seem keen to vote for progress: [3]

Reports of the relatively peaceful nature of the election are good news considering the country’s long history of election-related violence. According to VOA: “[4] [5]

Sierra Leoneans chose between keeping an incumbent president who has expanded health care and paved roads and electing an opposition candidate who is a former military general to lead this war-scarred nation still recovering a decade later. It is expected to be a close election, with some people eager to reelect a president who has championed education and healthcare while others are leaning towards the opposition party in hopes of improving the economy. Women seem to be split, supporting both candidates. The incumbent has made important progress for women’s health while the opposing candidate has a female running made for vice president. Regardless, women’s turnout will prove to be crucial: “At a maternity clinic across the street from one downtown polling station, nurses were voting in shifts." I am not a politician, but many mothers are coming here," said midwife Kiptieu Tarawalai, adding that under Koroma's plan the women who come to her clinic only pay for their food and clothing.”[6] However, many have doubted the sustainability of the new health system and have chosen to back the opposition leader. [7]

Most of the country's nearly 6 million people live on less than $1.25 a day, according to World Bank statistics, and life remains especially difficult for the estimated 2,000 people who were seriously maimed during the war.

Parliamentary Politics: Women candidates few and far between

The previous parliamentary election produce just 17 women out of the 124 parliamentarians, while only 18.9 percent of councilors in the local government were female– none at the level of chairwoman – and comprising less than 10% of all top civil service positions.

According to Barabara Bagura, the director of the women’s organization Grassroots Empowerment for Self-Reliance, the blame for such low numbers of female candidates belongs to the current group of female lawmakers. [8] She blames the current lawmakers from failing to pass the Gender Equality Bill that would have provided for a 30 percent representation of women in the legislature. Bangura argues that the women’s parliamentary caucus did not succeed due to a lack of interest on their part to fight for women’s rights.

“We had to be hard on their heels, they did not show enough interest in pushing the bill forward and also getting their parties to support it. Now many of them are not going back to parliament, as they have not retained their seats. I hope they have learned their lesson,” Bangura told IPS.[9] However, female parliamentarians also argued that part of the problem was that there was controversy over which arm of the government would monitor the implementation of the Gender Equality Bill, debates which took away time from convincing their parties to vote for the bill.

The Human Rights Commission (HRCSL) has argued that the Gender Equality Bill would have greatly benefit the country’s development. “There is a whole raft of women with the appropriate skills and experience to take on leadership roles, and the confidence to do so. But because of a bad system these women have been deliberately marginalized.” [10]

However, several female parliamentary candidates voiced concerns of intimidation by male counterparts. [11] Navo Kai-Kai from the SLPP told IPS that “there was serious intimidation; my male opponent came out with his secret societies during our party primaries so I had to leave my district in Kailahun, east of the country, escorted by

the police to Kenema district, for fear of my life. As a result I was unable to contest for the party symbols and lost to my male opponent.” [12]

Another issue preventing women from running for a seat is the prohibitive cost to get ones name on a ballot. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) recently increased the nomination fees from 100,00 Leones ($25) to one million Leones ($205), a huge leap in cost. Not only is it difficult for some candidates to pay the fee as individuals, it is particularly difficult for women who have to convince their parties to pay their fee and nominate a woman as their party’s representative. After significant protest, the government agreed to help candidate pay the fees.

Even so, Bangura places the blame of female parliamentarians themselves: “I always say that women do not know the power they have; we always say to them you are a woman first before you belong to a political party. Not all of them with party symbols will win.  So whilst we are looking at the women that actually have symbols we have to look at the ones that will go through, that will win seats in parliament and council, we will definitely see decreased figures.”[13]




               Sesay Kadi, first female vice-presidential candidate in Sierra Leone, 2012; IRIN News



Sierra Leone Presidential Elections Update

A week after the polls closed, Sierra Leone’s incumbent president, President Ernest Bai Koroma, was announced the winner. However, opposition party leaders are crying foul –saying that they will consider a possible appeal due to allegations of election fraud.

The leading opposition party, Sierra Leone People's Party, nearly outright reject the results, but were clearly dismayed at the announcement that the incumbent won 59% of the vote. The popular SLPP candidate, Julius Maada Bio, a former military junta leader, finished second with just more than 37% of the vote.[1]

After Koroma was sworn in for his second term, MEWC hopes he continues his work to address women’s health issues, as well as establish a mandate and committee for gender that has the political will to make significant change in the post-conflict country.











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