Page last updated at 10:28 GMT, Thursday, 9 August 2007 11:28 UK

Q&A: Sierra Leone election

Supporters campaign in Sierra Leone ahead of the elections
Supporters campaign in Sierra Leone ahead of the elections

Voters in Sierra Leone go to the polls on 11 August to elect a new president and members of parliament.

A large voter-turnout is expected.

By March, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) had registered over 2.6 million voters, accounting for 91% of the estimated voting population.

What is the background?

Outgoing President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah won the first post-war polls in 2002 with a landslide victory, receiving 70% of all votes cast. His Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) won 83 of the 112 parliamentary seats.

President Kabbah's victory followed a brutal decade-long civil war during which 50,000 people were killed and thousands more had their bodies mutilated.

British intervention in 2002 led to the official end of the war. It made way for the disarming of tens of thousands of rebels and militia fighters by UN peacekeepers, who withdrew in December 2005.

How does the system work?

Sierra Leone has a single-chamber parliament with 124 seats. Of these, 112 are held by elected members. The remaining 12 are reserved for traditional chiefs.

Members of parliament serve four-year terms.

Parliamentary candidates must be Sierra Leonean citizens by birth and be at least 21 years old.

The constitution demands that parliamentary candidates be able to speak and read English "with a degree of proficiency, sufficient to enable them to take an active part in the proceedings of parliament".

What about the president?

The president's tenure in office is limited to two five-year terms.

Aspiring presidential candidates must be Sierra Leone citizens and belong to a registered political party. They must be at least 40 years old.

To win the presidential race, a candidate must receive 55% of the votes cast.

If there is no clear winner, a run-off will be held after two weeks.

Who is leading the race?

Seven parties have been cleared for the elections. The main contenders in the presidential race belong to the leading three parties.

1. Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP)

Vice-President Solomon Ekuma Berewa, the head of the SLPP, is the front-runner in the race. Mr Berewa, 71, served as attorney-general and justice minister between 1996 and 2002.

The SLPP gets most of its support from the south, where it also faces stiff competition from the People's Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC).

2. All People's Congress (APC)

The APC presidential candidate, Ernest Bai Koroma, is running for the second time. He came second in the 2002 presidential race, receiving 22.3% of the votes cast. His party holds 27 seats in parliament.

The APC governed the country between 1968 and 1992. In 1978, it introduced a one-party system, which remained in place until 1992.

Many voters continue to associate the party with mismanaging the country and precipitating the civil war.

3. People's Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC)

The PMDC is a breakaway faction of the SLPP. It was officially registered in January 2006.

PMDC's presidential candidate, Charles Francis Margai, hails from a prominent political family. His father, Albert Margai, served as premier from 1964 -1967. His uncle, Milton Margai, was Sierra Leone's first prime minister, who led the country to independence in 1961.

What are the main issues?

1. Role of military

The army has been a key player in the politics of the country, whose post-independence history is peppered with coups and years of military rule.

This year, the armed forces have pledged neutrality in the elections. The deputy chief of defence staff, Brig-Gen Nelson Williams, said the armed forces will only intervene if the police are unable to handle the security situation during polling.

2. Reconstruction/corruption

The governing party's manifesto focuses on the consolidation of peace and on the country's reconstruction. Opposition leaders however accuse the party of having failed in this respect.

In 2006, the UN ranked Sierra Leone 176 out 177 in the UNDP Development Index.

The opposition APC says government officials have misappropriated millions of dollars from donor funding. The IMF has also raised concerns over alleged corruption within the government.

3. Mineral exploitation

The illegal trade in diamonds from Sierra Leone not only funded the country's civil war but is believed to have helped fuel conflicts in other African nations.

The government has launched a major campaign to crackdown on the trade in so-called "blood diamonds". It says the crackdown is necessary to improve the diamond mining industry's image and attract much-needed foreign investment in the mining industry.

Despite these efforts, most Sierra Leoneans remain poor, and have not yet benefited from the exploitation of the country's abundant forestry and mineral wealth.

4. Election violence

Acts of violence escalated in the run up to the polls, especially in the capital, Freetown, and the south-eastern towns of Bo and Kenema. In July, police arrested scores of people after clashes in the south between SLPP and PMDC supporters.

Who are the observers?

The National Election Watch (NEW) is a coalition of 75 local civil society organizations that has trained some 150,000 monitors. The group says its mission is to ensure "free, fair and transparent elections".

The Council of Churches in Sierra Leone, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) will also be monitoring the elections.

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