Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature. In March the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) presidential candidate, Julius Maada Bio, won the presidential elections. Maada Bio defeated Samura Kamara of the All People’s Congress (APC) party by a narrow margin. In the January parliamentary elections, the APC won a plurality of the seats. Observers found the elections to be largely free and fair.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included unlawful killings; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; criminal libel; official corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls, including female genital mutilation/cutting; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct, leading to the arrest of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals; and child labor.
The government took some steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed violations, but impunity persisted.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: On March 7, the country held peaceful presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections, and on March 31, the government held presidential run-off elections. The opposition SLPP candidate, Julius Maada Bio, defeated the incumbent APC party candidate, Samura Kamara. Although some observers reported minor irregularities, domestic and international observers described the elections as free, fair, transparent, and credible, with 84 percent turnout among registered voters.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties are free to register and operate in the country. A total of 17 political parties registered with the Political Parties Registration Commission and 16 of them competed in the March 7 elections.
Opposition parties complained that the then-ruling APC engaged in intimidation of other parties. Between July 2017 and April, supporters of the APC reportedly attacked and intimidated opposition party members across the country. IGR reported that in Tonkolili District, attackers beat an SLPP supporter. In another case, APC members assaulted opposition National Grand Coalition supporters in Kambia and Kono. IGR recorded a series of other electoral related violence across the country, mostly perpetrated by the APC.
Ethnic affiliations strongly influenced political party membership for the two dominant ethnic groups, the Mende and Themne; each accounted for approximately 30 percent of the population. The Mende traditionally supported the SLPP and the Themne the APC. The Limba, the third most populous ethnic group, traditionally supported the APC. Other ethnic groups had no strong political party affiliations. The opposition APC party had repeatedly accused the SLPP of giving preference to populations in the Southeast, who are mostly Mendes, in filling government positions. As of August 30, ministers from the Southeast held 54 percent of cabinet positions, ministers from the South and East 25 percent, and those from the Western Peninsula the remaining 16 percent.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Women have the right to vote, but husbands or other patriarchal figures were known to influence their decisions. Women were underrepresented in government. Of the 146 parliamentarians, 18 were women. As of August women led five of the 24 ministries. On the three highest courts, 10 out of 35 judges were women. Cultural and traditional practices in the northern areas of the country prevented women from holding office as paramount chiefs (a parallel system of tribal government operated in each of the 190 chiefdoms).
All citizens have the right to vote, but citizenship at birth is granted only to persons of “Negro-African” descent, thus disenfranchising the significant number of Lebanese and other “non-Negro-African” persons who were born and continued to reside in the country. Persons of non-Negro-African groups may apply to be naturalized. If naturalized, they are eligible to vote in all national and local elections, but no naturalized citizen may run for public office.