Outgoing Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma on Wednesday 28 February, at the Presidential Lodge in Freetown received Prof. Amos Sawyer, Head of the 55-member ECOWAS Observation Mission and renewed his government’s commitment to delivering credible general elections on March 7 for a successful political transition in the country.
“We have come a long way and made some progress, and from the preparations on the part of government, the Electoral Commission, security agencies and political parties, we expect a peaceful electoral process and transfer of political power,” President Koroma assured.
He said this is the first time since the end of the civil war that elections would be largely funded by Sierra Leone’s government, adding: “We want to take ownership and responsibility for our destiny.”
Thanking ECOWAS and development partners, the out-going President said “there will always be some challenges, but we have improved with every election.”
“I am looking forward to getting out of the cage and joining the Club of Eminent Persons in our continent and region,” declared the President Koroma, who has served the constitutionally-allowed two mandates.
In his response, Prof. Sawyer noted that although the “stakes are high” in the March 7 presidential, parliamentary and local council elections, “we are confident that Sierra Leoneans will live up to the expectations of political maturity, patriotism and commitment to sustainable peace and democracy in the country and the region as a whole.”
While commending President Koroma for his efforts at deepening and strengthening democracy in the ECOWAS region, he called on all the country’s political stakeholders – government, political parties, the Electoral Commission, security agencies, civil society and the media – to work together in the interest of peace, stability and development of the country.
“The success of the March 7 elections in Sierra Leone will be a huge step for democratic consolidation in the country and our region, especially coming after the successes in other ECOWAS member States, including neighbouring Liberia,” said Prof. Sawyer, former Interim President of Liberia.
The ECOWAS Observation Mission is holding consultations with various Sierra Leonean political stakeholders to ensure that the electoral process complies with the regional protocol on good governance and democracy.
The regional observers are being deployed to the country’s 16 Administrative Districts, where some 3.17 million registered voters from an estimated national population of seven million people will cast their ballots in 11,122 polling stations to elect Sierra Leone’s 5th President and members of the 144-seat parliament.
Sixteen candidates including two women are vying for the presidency, while more than 700 candidates are contesting for the parliamentary seats.
The elections are taking place against the backdrop of grim economic prospects for the country, which endured an 11-year devastating civil war that ended in 2002, and the lingering effects of the 2014 Ebola virus pandemic and deadly mudslides of August 2017.
In another major development, flag bearers and leaders of Sierra Leone’s registered political parties on Wednesday signed a Peace Pledge committing to respect the will of the people and to concede defeat provided the March 7 polls “are transparent, free and fair.”
Prof Sawyer and leaders of other international observer groups witnessed the signing of the two-page Freetown Declaration facilitated by former Ghanaian President John Mahama.
Eight of the 16 presidential candidates including one of the two female contestants signed the text, while the others including the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), which had its major campaign rally in Freetown on Wednesday are expected to endorse the Agreement before the election day, all having agreed to the terms and wordings of the text.