Since he grew to become president of the small West African nation of Sierra Leone in 2018, Julius Maada Bio has devoted 22 % of the nation’s funds to schooling, a coverage that has despatched an extra a million youngsters to highschool and obtained consideration from worldwide backers.
As Sierra Leoneans voted on Saturday for his or her subsequent president — some lining up at polling stations hours earlier than they had been scheduled to open — Mr. Bio made that schooling initiative a key argument for voters to provide him a second five-year time period.
However many citizens have extra pressing priorities than an schooling coverage that has usually fallen brief: hovering inflation, youth unemployment, each day energy cuts and relentless warmth waves worsened by local weather change.
What’s at stake within the election?
Sierra Leone, residence to eight.4 million folks and one of many world’s poorest international locations, has gained consideration for its new schooling coverage, which if it succeeds, might encourage different international locations in Africa and past.
However financial issues high most voters’ issues: The warfare in Ukraine has driven up fuel and food prices, including for rice, fish and gas.
“When Sierra Leoneans assume they’ve reached the underside, it will get worse,” stated Cyril Jengo, an economist primarily based in Freetown, the capital.
The main candidates say they plan to handle the cost-of-living disaster, however Sierra Leone’s total economic system would wish a revamp, analysts say, because it principally depends on imports and is often hit by crises: the Ebola epidemic a decade in the past, the coronavirus pandemic and now the ripple results of the warfare in Ukraine.
Who’re the candidates?
Out of 13 candidates, two have a reputable likelihood of successful: Mr. Bio, the present president, and Samura Kamara, a former authorities minister.
The election is a rematch: Mr. Bio was elected in 2018 after beating Mr. Kamara by a decent margin.
Mr. Bio, 59, a former navy officer who participated in two coups throughout Sierra Leone’s civil warfare within the Nineties, briefly dominated the nation in 1996 as the pinnacle of a navy junta. He handed energy to a democratically elected president a couple of months later and went to check in the USA. He returned to Sierra Leone, and ran for president in 2018.
Mr. Bio has vowed to offer free well being care to all youngsters going to highschool, and to advertise meals self-sufficiency.
Mr. Kamara, 72, is an economist who served as minister of finance after which international affairs when his social gathering was in energy within the 2010s.
He has made broad promises about financial growth, alternatives for youth and the struggle towards local weather change.
In 2021, Mr. Kamara was charged with embezzlement in a case tied to the renovation of Sierra Leone’s consulate in New York whereas he was international minister. Mr. Kamara’s supporters say the case, which is being heard by the Supreme Court docket, is politically motivated to discredit him. The case was adjourned in order that he might run, however a ruling is anticipated in July.
What’s the president’s file?
By means of its schooling reform, Mr. Bio’s authorities has sought to ban faculty charges and recruited hundreds of recent academics. Greater than 3.1 million youngsters at the moment are formally at school, up from underneath two million in 2018.
However many mother and father nonetheless need to pay faculty charges, and academics complain that they haven’t obtained the wage enhance they had been promised.
Mr. Bio’s authorities has additionally adopted a land-rights coverage geared toward protecting local communities against foreign companies searching for to take advantage of their land. And a brand new gender-equality coverage requires employers to rent girls to at least 30 percent of their positions — a minimal that the present authorities has not reached.
However Mr. Bio has additionally been criticized for muzzling civil society teams and responding with violence to demonstrations last summer, leading to greater than 25 deaths. And his guarantees to handle the financial disaster and develop agriculture sound hole to many.
“The poverty is endemic and deepening,” stated Jimmy Kandeh, a Sierra Leonean professor emeritus of political science on the College of Richmond in Virginia. “Whether or not the politics will ship a change, I don’t assume there’s a lot hope in that.”
When, the place and the way do folks vote?
Some 3.4 million individuals are registered to vote on Saturday in Sierra Leone’s 5 administrative areas. They can even elect their members of Parliament, mayor or native chiefs, and native councilors.
Observers from the African Union, the West African financial bloc often called ECOWAS, the European Union and the Carter Heart are monitoring the vote. There is no such thing as a digital voting.
What do polls predict, and when are outcomes anticipated?
Polls have Mr. Bio as the favourite. Lots of the nation’s 3.4 million voters vote alongside regional and ethnic allegiances.
Presidential candidates should get 55 % of the vote to win within the first spherical, and a runoff is probably going, in keeping with Mr. Kandeh. Outcomes are anticipated to be introduced by the electoral fee the next week. A runoff could be organized two weeks later.
For the primary time, polling officers will ship outcomes to a database run by the electoral fee through a devoted app. Nigeria examined an analogous technique for the presidential election in February, however the course of was plagued with issues, and the results were delayed.
Joseph Johnson contributed analysis.