Sierra Leone Election 2012: Koroma Sworn-In For Second Term As APC Floors Opposition To Grab Victory

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Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma was sworn in for a second term on Friday elections, promising to boost foreign investment and crack down on corruption in the war-scarred nation.

Koroma took 58.7 percent of the ballots in a November 17 poll, just above the 55 percent he needed to avoid a run-off, election officials announced. His main rival, Julius Maada Bio, a 48-year-old retired army brigadier, took 37.4 percent.

“We will continue to attract investment, we will continue to fight corruption,” Koroma said in a speech to cheering supporters in the ramshackle capital Freetown.

“I will make sure that the fruits of … prosperity are equally distributed in every district and every region. The work starts today.”

The election was the third national vote since the end of a 1991-2002 civil war that made Sierra Leone notorious as a “blood diamonds” battleground for rebels and child soldiers.

After Koroma’s win was announced, groups of youths shouted and cheered under a cotton tree in the centre of Freetown, a landmark where slaves were once bought and sold.

“I’m pleased, very happy (…) He brings joy in Sierra Leone. Ernest brings joy in the heart of the people,” said Abdul Deen, 41, who runs a decorating business .

At stake in the vote was the opportunity to oversee billions of dollars of investment in the aid-dependent country’s resources that include gold and diamonds, oil and iron ore.

Iron-ore shipments by British companies African Minerals and London Mining are expected to buoy the economy to 20 percent growth this year – below original forecasts of more than 50 percent, but still one of the highest growth rates on the planet.

Election officials and observers reported a large and enthusiastic turnout in the polls, and observers called the process free and fair.

Koroma and his ruling All People’s Congress (APC) faced a determined challenge from Bio, a former junta leader who represents the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).

Koroma wrestled the presidency from the SLPP in a hotly disputed 2007 vote and was considered the narrow favourite above Bio, who was involved in two military takeovers in the turbulent 1990s.

Bio supporters were dismayed by the outcome, many claiming the results were fraudulent.

“As for me, the election does not go down well with us,” said Frank Mattia, a 28-year-old student. “Ernest Bai Koroma has rigged the election which is not free and fair to us, the people of this country.”

The electoral commission said there were some polling stations where votes exceeded registered voters, but said those results were thrown out and were too few to have an impact on the election’s outcome.

An SLPP official declined comment, saying an official statement would be issued over the weekend.

The election in the former British colony was one of the most closely observed in Africa this year by monitors from the European Union, the Commonwealth and the African Union.

Doubts remain whether Koroma can root out graft from Sierra Leone’s patronage-driven politics and fairly distribute the mineral wealth.

“If they get through this successfully, I think it will mark the tipping point from a post-conflict country to a democratically developing one,” John Stremlau, of the Atlanta-based Carter Centre’s election observer mission, said.

(Reporting by Reuters’  Simon Akam; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Michael Roddy)

President Koroma’s Swearing-In Speech:

Fellow Sierra Leoneans 

By the grace of God, I have once again been elected as your President. The people have spoken and their collective will has prevailed. I give praise and thanks to Almighty God for the great honour bestowed on me to lead this nation. This is a win for every Sierra Leonean; and I thank every Sierra Leonean for bringing about this victory for this land that we love.

Sierra Leoneans displayed maturity, patience and tolerance during the elections. These are enduring Sierra Leonean values, and we must continue to display them to sustain our peace, our democracy and our development.

We deeply appreciate the commitment of the National Electoral Commission, Political Parties Registration Commission, and the Security forces to the constitution of this country and the sacred tenets of democracy, peace and security. We also applaud the many other state agencies, domestic and international monitors, civil society groups and the media for their positive contribution to ensuring credible, transparent and peaceful elections in the country.

My fellow Sierra Leoneans, you have given me, and my party, the All Peoples Congress, the mandate to govern our country for the next five years. You endorsed the achievements we made with the Agenda for Change and asked us to continue on to the Agenda for Prosperity.

This is my new contract with you, we will focus on creating jobs for the youths, and on training our youths to seize the immense employment opportunities we are creating in the construction, mining, agriculture and other sectors. We will continue with our infrastructural development programmes; we will continue to attract investment; we will continue to fight corruption; we will continue to protect and promote the rights of every woman, every man, youth, child, journalist, and civil society activist.

The time for politics is over, the moment for continuing the transformation has come. This is the time for all of us to embrace each other. In the name of Mama Sierra Leone,  let all APC supporters embrace every SLPP supporter and supporters of other political parties. I am inviting the leadership of the SLPP and other political parties to join the leadership of the APC in moving this country forward. The job at hand requires the goodwill and positive energy of the membership of all political parties.

Fellow Sierra Leoneans, democracy respects divisions; good governance transcends divisions. I will make sure that the fruits of the Agenda for Prosperity are equally distributed in every district and region of the country. Our creation of jobs will be for youths all over the country; our focus on skills for employment will be for the youths of every political party; we will construct roads in every region, continue to bring electricity to every district; develop agriculture in every chiefdom and provide free healthcare for the mothers and children of every village.

The work starts today. We know Sierra Leoneans everywhere are celebrating this national victory. But let us celebrate within the law; let us celebrate with the grace, tolerance and goodwill that must be the corner stone of the job at hand. Let us, as we celebrate, be mindful that the work starts today, and every Sierra Leonean, from all political parties, regions, ethnic group, age, and religion is central to our Agenda for Prosperity. We must therefore embrace each other as we march forward with action, bravery, commitment, discipline, empathy and fortitude.

I assure you all that with tenacity of purpose, and with great courage and determination, we will sustain our peace, democracy and development. The future beckons with high hopes for a prosperous Sierra Leone, whose sons and daughters will live together in peace and harmony, and enjoy the abundant fruits of our labour.

God bless you all

God bless Sierra Leone