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

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

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

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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