Friday, August 24, 2007

Opposition APC wins parliamentary majority

FREETOWN, Aug 23 (Reuters) - Sierra Leone's opposition All People's Congress (APC) has won a parliamentary majority with 59 of the 112 seats, but the presidential race will go to a run-off, the National Electoral Commission said on Thursday.

The party ruled the West African country for two decades until a 1991-2002 civil war, which was sparked in part by widespread official corruption and funded by gems plucked from the country's rich alluvial diamond fields.

The Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) of outgoing president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, which dominated the last parliament, won 43 seats in the Aug. 11 election, while the PMDC, a breakaway from the SLPP, took the remaining 10.

"The people have rejected the SLPP massively," said Alpha Kanu, spokesman for APC presidential candidate Ernest Bai Koroma, who will now face Deputy President Solomon Berewa in a presidential run-off next month.

"We had only 27 seats in the last parliament, against the SLPP's 85. To turn that around as we have shows the government has failed to deliver," Kanu said.

First elected in the midst of the war, Tejan Kabbah was re-elected five years ago on a wave of peacetime euphoria. But many Sierra Leoneans have been disappointed since then with continuing corruption and the slow pace of reconstruction.

Results from the presidential election showed Koroma had won 44.3 percent of votes, Berewa 38.3 percent and Charles Margai of the PMDC 13.9 percent. The remaining votes were shared between four other candidates. The fact that no candidate reached 50 percent meant there would be a run-off.

"These are official results, but still preliminary. We will be conducting our final checks today and tomorrow and will announce the certified results on Saturday," NEC Chairman Christiana Thorpe said.

She said at least one case of electoral fraud had been identified, but not significant enough to compromise the result.


Margai, a veteran SLPP figure who turned his back on the party when it selected Berewa as candidate, and founded the People's Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC), has already indicated he will support the APC's Koroma in a second round.

Under the former British colony's electoral rules, the run-off should be held within two weeks of the publication of certified results. Officials have said informally it will probably be held on Sept. 6 or 8.

But Koroma's camp called on Berewa to concede.

"If I were in the vice-president's shoes, I would not be fighting for a second round run-off. He has lost parliament. Where is the moral right to compete now for the presidency?" Kanu said.

"We will defeat him. The noble thing to do is to concede defeat now because otherwise he's going to be defeated again. The international community should bring reason to the candidate. It's a waste of time to hold a presidential run-off. The country is too poor for that," he said.

Sierra Leone, once a haven for freed and rescued slaves, became a byword for brutality during the civil war as drug-crazed rebel fighters -- many just children -- chopped off the hands and feet of civilians.

Reuters AlertNet - S.Leone opposition APC wins parliamentary majority