Residents of Freetown’s Ward 369 in Constituency 104 where local by-election violence erupted on Saturday say relative calm has returned to their Fourah Bay neighborhood, east of the capital Freetown (photo) after police used live bullets and tear gas to put down rioting between supporters of Sierra Leone’s two main political parties.
The riot left members of both parties with stab wounds, including Lansana Fadika, (a former Western Area Regional Chairman for Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) who recently defected to the ruling All People’s Congress APC, Ibrahim Lewally, (the uncle of the current APC Member of Parliament for Constituency 104) and Mariama Suma, a female leader of the APC.
Published reports also say Mohamed Kanu Mansaray – the SLPP candidate who emerged as winner of the by-election suffered a broken arm, while according to the opposition SLPP leaning New People Newspaper Online, Aziz Carew – the local chairman was allegedly “tortured by police for hours until he slipped into a coma. “
The ruling All People’s Congress (APC) and the opposition SLPP are hurling blame at each other with accusations and counter-accusations.
APC Secretary-General Victor B. Foh on Tuesday released a statement that not only rejected the result of the by-election, but “condemns violence in all its forms" and categorically denounces "the violence perpetrated by supporters of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) during the bye-election held in Ward 369, Constituency 104, in Freetown on Saturday 14th January, 2012.”
The statement also castigates “civil society groups, including the National Elections Watch, the 50-50 group, and the All Political Parties Women’s Association, who have been very vocal in the past on electoral violence and gender issues,” for their deafening silence on the recent incidents.
SLPP released a counter Press Statement titled “Existing Challenges to Free, Fair and Non-Violent Elections in Sierra Leone” on Tuesday signed by its National Secretary-General Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie, expressing appreciation for the election of their candidate Mohamed Kanu Mansaray as the new Councillor of Ward 369.
Tejan-Sie also expressed “utter disappointment and outrage at the level of intimidation and violence” which he claimed was “masterminded by the leadership of the ruling APC Party, particularly the Minister of Internal Affairs, Musa Tarawally, and the sitting Member of Parliament for Constituency 104, Hon. Tunde Lewally.”
In addition, Tejan-Sie called on the government and the international community for “an independent and impartial investigation into the shootings and police brutality by OSD personnel against Aziz Carew, members of his family in Ward 369 and others including a reporter from Radio Democracy (98.1 F.M) on Sunday 15th January 2012 , and bring those found culpable to book,”
According to an Agence France Presse news report, eyewitnesses and police say the violent drama unfurled after top officials from the ruling APC and the opposition SLPP attempted to enter a polling booth where they were not residents of the community nor registered voters in the constituency. Witnesses also say all hell broke loose after they were denied entry into the polling station. This account is corroborated by an Interim Monitoring Report of the Ward 369 Constituency 104 By-election released by the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC).
The PPRC report indicates that the National Electoral Commission (NEC) had called the Saturday January 14, 2012 by-election for the vacant seat following the death of former Councilor Abdul Salaam Ade Lewally who represented Ward 369.
The NEC noted a very low voter turnout; less than 1,500 out of 6,000 registered voters reportedly cast their votes during Saturday’s by-election.
SLPP candidate Mansaray was declared the winner over a pool of 4 beating Abdul Tarawally (APC) – Ousman Kanu of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and Mohamed I. N. King of the United Democratic Movement (UDM)
It can be recalled that, less than five months ago, Mr. Michael von der Schulenberg, the executive representative of the UN Secretary-General and head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) during his Seventh Report on the progress of the work in Sierra Leone to the Security Council urged Sierra Leonean politicians not to forget what the country has achieved, but build on those accomplishments and conduct their affairs responsibly.
Speaking on the clashes between supporters of APC and SLPP in Bo during the month of September Mr Schulenberg said “elections are still one and half years away and this must not start to embitter the social and political climate in Sierra Leone."
He also called for resolving of outstanding issues ahead of the next year’s general elections, including reaching agreement on the polls’ legal framework and an electoral code of conduct.