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Elections in the air. (Sierra Leone).

The brutal 10-year rebel war may be over, but leadership squabbles may yet come to haunt the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections fixed for 14 May.

Three months to the elections, only one of the country's 22 political parties, the ruling SLPP, has held its party convention and published its election manifesto.

"It seems as if the politicians want to take us for granted again. But this time they will have a shock of their lives," says Marium Conteh of "50-50", the Freetown-based NGO that advocates equal political representation for women.

The elections should have been held last year but the general insecurity in the country prevented them from happening. But now, with more than 47,000 fighters disarmed and some 14,300 weapons collected as part of the ceasefire agreement, the path is cleared for the elections to be held.

Until now, it was a foregone conclusion that the incumbent, president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, would be nominated by the SLPP to stand for re-election. But now Kabbah faces a challenge from within the party, in the person of the former internal affairs and security minister, Charles Margai, who quit his job to challenge his former boss.

The All People's Congress (APC) which ruled the country for nearly three decades before being overthrown in a military coup in 1992, is also in the throes of a leadership contest. At the last count, seven candidates were vying for the APC's top job.

The country's newest political force is the Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP), carved out of the former RUF rebel group that fought the civil war for 10 years.

"We have abandoned bullets, and are now striving for the ballot to get us into government," says Eldred Collins, the RUFP spokesman.

Indications are that six presidential candidates will be in the race come May. According to Ibrahim Kargbo, a political analyst: "The real president will not emerge from the first ballot. The party that qualifies for the second round and succeeds in getting all the other 20 parties to support it in the runoff, will clearly provide the next president."

Whoever wins, he will face an uphill task in delivering the goods. He will have to take harsh measures against corruption and also to stop the huge problem of diamond smuggling. Jobs must be found for thousands of unemployed youth, and the country's infrastructure is in serious need of modernisation.

Santos Mansaray, a former Member of Parliament, sums up the national mood: "People are desperate to get rid of dead wood and recycled politicians, and are aching for new blood that can inject a radical development into the fragile security situation in the country."
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Author:Mac-Johnson, Rod
Publication:New African
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:6SIER
Date:Mar 1, 2002
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