Africa

Number of women in Sierra Leone vote seen as test of stability

Sapa-AFP

Sierra Leone kicked off a month-long campaign on Wednesday for its national elections but few women have featured as candidates in the race.

Current Sierra Leonean President Ernest Koroma is seen as the favourite to win a second term in the November 17 elections. (AFP)

The elections are seen as a test of stability 10 years after its civil war, with no women standing for president despite a push to register more female candidates.

"All presidential candidates nominated by nine out of the 10 officially recognised political parties are 100% male, and of the nine vice-presidential candidates, five are males," chief electoral commissioner Christiana Thorpe told journalists.

The country's 10 parties had all agreed to seek more female candidates as part of a push to bring the proportion of women lawmakers from less than 20% in the outgoing Parliament to at least 30%. But Thorpe said that of the 586 candidates standing for the 124-seat Parliament, just 38 were female.

Sierra Leone – which gained independence from Britain in 1961 – has never had a woman president, and women often face discrimination and rights abuses.

The country is still recovering from a decade-long civil war that ended in 2002, and the November 17 elections are seen as a key test of stability.

Appeals for peace
The United Nations office in Sierra Leone, set up in the wake of a 1999 to 2005 peacekeeping operation, called for a non-violent vote.

"We are encouraging the continued commitment of citizens, leaders and institutions to pursue constructive political dialogue and non-violence as well as the respect for the rule of law and institutions during the electoral process," the UN said in a statement marking the start of the campaign.

President Ernest Koroma of the ruling All People's Congress (APC) is seen as the favourite to win a second and final five-year term in the elections.

UK diplomat Ian Hughes called on officials to organise a peaceful and transparent vote, which he said "could pave the way for socio-economic development" in the West African state.

He announced the UK's international development department would provide £2-million for election-related expenses.

US diplomat Michael Owen for his part announced a donation of $4-million for "awareness-raising and electoral security programmes". – AFP

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