afrol News, 17 September - Opposition candidate Ernest Bai Koroma has won the second poll round of Sierra Leone's presidential elections and taken over power. This represents the first-ever opposition victory in the country's history and the tenth in post-colonial Africa.
Mr Koroma represented the opposition All People's Congress (APC) party in the close two-round presidential polls held in August and September in Sierra Leone. The APC frontrunner stood against Solomon Berewa, Sierra Leone's Vice President and candidate of the hitherto ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP).
According to the official results where today announced by the national electoral commissioner, Christiana Thorpe. Ms Thorpe revealed that opposition leader Koroma had won 54.6 percent of the vote, while the ruling party's contester had polled 45.4 percent. Mr Koroma was thus declared the next President of Sierra Leone.
The opposition victory, following a free, transparent and mostly peaceful election process, somewhat came as a surprise to observers. Sierra Leone is still a reconstructing post-war country experiencing utmost poverty, and the SLPP regime under outgoing President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah was showing increasing signs of not respecting basic democratic rules.
Despite the growing corruption, political violence and disrespect of press freedom, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) however managed the almost impossible task of organising a free and transparent election, with a minimum of political violence. NEC leader Ms Thorpe has been praised for the agency's great success by national and international observers.
The NEC however is not completely satisfied with its own record. Ms Thorpe Thorpe has announced investigations into 14 suspected cases of electoral fraud. The state agency finds it highly suspicious that several strongholds of the ruling SLPP had reported a voters' turnout of hundred percent. Despite the opposition victory, there are thus indications that the ruling party indeed tried to manipulate the results in its favour.
But the opposition's victory also surprised observers on the basis on political realities. Given the fragile position Sierra Leone still experiences - regarding security and economy - voters were not expected to turn against a government that has been able to guarantee increasing security and stability after decades of war and destruction.
Also, Mr Koroma's APC party still is remembered by many Sierra Leoneans as the party ruling before the civil war, drifting the country into chaos corruption and instability.
But President Kabbah, and the relatively unknown Vice President Berewa, has grown increasingly unpopular. Despite massive foreign aid, reconstruction has been slow. Corruption has become pervasive and is seen as the main obstacle to economic development. Also, security before the law has become more and more dependent on bribes or contacts.
Most Sierra Leoneans seem to have voted for change and looked at the Kabbah government as a prolongation of the conflicts of the past. While the country mostly has experienced peace since Mr Kabbah won the 2002 elections, he still is seen by many as party to the wars. Many opposition voters therefore saw Mr Koroma as a "clean paper" uncorrupted by the war and following poor progress. His main election appeal was also a call for "change".
Mr Koroma this evening was sworn in as Sierra Leone's new President. After the ceremony, he told his cheering supporters: "My government will spare no effort to deal with zero tolerance with corruption and mismanagement of state resources." The promise was hailed with a big applause, as Mr Koroma flowed on a wave of support and high expectations.
During the inauguration, outgoing President Kabbah said he had turned Sierra Leone from a "failing state" into a "fully stable and functional state" during his post-war rule. Mr Kabbah, who was forced to step down by the constitution allowing only two terms, congratulated the country's new leader as he went into a historic role of having accepted Sierra Leone's first democratic change of power.
Also in an African perspective, the Sierra Leonean opposition's election victory is outstanding. The first time ever in post-colonial Africa when a ruling president and party was replaced by the opposition candidate was in Benin in 1991, when thus-dictator Mathieu Kérékou handed over power to Nicephore Soglo.
Since then, only a few African countries have experienced power transitions to the opposition through election victories. These include Mauritius, Cape Verde, Săo Tomé, Zambia, Senegal, Ghana, Kenya and Guinea-Bissau. Most other countries respect democratic guidelines in national elections, but Sierra Leone nevertheless is among the first fifth of African nations to see the opposition win power through elections.
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