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Elections

Election campaign kicks off in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leoneans will be heading to the polls in November to choose who will represent them in the national parliament for the next five years, and to endorse or reject the current president, Ernest Bai Koroma.

The poll on November 17 will be the third democratic election to be held in the country since the end of the civil war more than a decade ago which cost some 50,000 lives. The outcome is seen as crucial to the ongoing recovery of the scarred nation.

The stakes are high, with a wide range of political parties battling it out to win people's trust and votes.

The ruling All People's Congress Party (APC) and the opposition Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) are the two main contenders.

The front runners

Presidential candidate for the ruling APC is Ernest Bai Koroma, an insurance broker-turned politician.

President Koroma (Photo: REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon)

President Koroma is hoping to be re-elected

He's seeking re-election after five years in office.

Current SLPP leader Julius Maada Bio is a former leader of the junta regime that ruled from 1992 to 1996. He headed the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) during that time before handing over power to an elected government.

This is not the first time the APC and SLPP have battled it out for Sierra Leone's top job. The rivalry between them can be traced back to before the country's independence from Britain in 1961.

In the 1967 election the APC narrowly beat the SLPP and ruled for the next 23 years in a dictatorial government, before being thrown out by a military junta in 1992.

After almost thirty years in the political wilderness, the SLPP were elected to office again in 1996. After two terms in power, the SLPP lost the 2007 election to the APC.

This time around, both parties are using their past record of governance in a bid to attract voter support.

"We are building roads, we have improved the water system, electricity supply and health facilities," Victor Bockarie Foh, Secretary-General of the APC party, told DW in an interview.

But such claims of progress are disputed by the SLPP.

A woman casts her vote at a polling station in 2007 (Photo: ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)

The 2007 poll was marred by pre-election violence

Speaking to DW, the party's secretary general, Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie, said he is not impressed with what he called “the rantings of the ruling party.”

Over the past few years, the government has worked to improve the road network in the capital, as well as in towns in other parts of the country. But Tejan-Sie says the country is too poor for such large scale infrastructural projects.

Rich in resources

Sierra Leone is rich in natural resources, including diamonds, iron ore and bauxite. Since the end of the civil war in 2002, the country has made significant progress, but poverty, unemployment and under-development are still widespread – issues which both main candidates have promised to address.

60 percent of the country's young people are out of work. A large number of the country's six million people live on less than $1.25 (77 euro cents) a day.

The United Nations ranked Sierra Leone at 180 out of 187 countries listed in the 2011 UNDP Human Development Index.

But, it's not only about the main parties. In addition to the big two, eight smaller groups are also putting forward candidates. Bami Thomas, western region secretary-general for the National Democratic Alliance, told DW his party embraces everyone. "We will work towards uniting the regions," he added.

Hopes of peaceful elections

Violence between rival supporters has marred previous elections. Valnora Edwin, the national coordinator of the Campaign for Good Governance (CGG), a non governmental organisation working in Sierra Leone, told DW the CGG expects this year's elections to be peaceful.

Two young men on crutches play football (Photo: dpa - Bildfunk)

Many amputees bear witness to the brutal civil war

"We are quite positive and believe there won't be any tensions that would lead to the nation sliding back down the road it came from," she said.

A team of European Union observers is already in the capital, Freetown, to make preparations for monitoring the elections.

The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, said in a statement that the elections were "very significant for the stability and the democratic development of the country."

"I hope that all state institutions will prove that they have the capacity to organise credible and transparent elections," she added.

The credibility of the election rests mainly with the country's electoral commission, headed by the winner of the 2009 German-Africa Prize, Dr. Christiana Thorpe.

The prize has been awarded annually since 1993 to prominent African personalities working for peace, democracy, human rights or sustainable development. Deutsche Welle participates in the selection process.

DW.DE