The country has been caught by the election fever. Street rallies of supporters dressed in their parties’ colour, newspapers headlining the latest missteps and victories of presidential candidates and hefty street discussions on the upcoming elections make it clear that in Sierra Leone politics belongs to everybody. As a visitor, the election period can seem intimidating, but what is it really like to be in Sierra Leone during the elections? It’s understandable that many avoid the country at this time, but is it indeed dangerous to be here? Here’s what you need to know about the 2018 Presidential Elections.
Every party is allowed to have political rallies on the streets. These are often not solemn long speeches on urban development and foreign trade policies, but rowdy alcohol-fuelled dance parades. Trucks, motortaxi’s, taxi’s, fancy and not-so fancy cars joined by thousands of people march the streets. A great sight, not a great place to be, especially if you’re in a car and the crowd is in front of you. Not because of the petty crimes committed, but because of the soul-crunching traffic jam that they create. They are best to be avoided and some offices in Freetown even close during big rallies.
To help you, we have made a rally calendar that shows exactly what party is protesting where. Highlighted in bright orange is the Western Area (which includes Freetown). Be especially careful with APC rallies, as these are the biggest and most turbulent. As a general rule; if you see mass of red or green, go the opposite direction.
March 7th, the day of the elections
What can you expect on election day? Those who have registered can vote between 7am and 6pm at one of the voting stations. These are often schools, police stations and community centres. It is advised for those who have voted to return home immediately to avoid calamities. Offices will be closed on the 7th.
If you are not going to vote, know that most touristic spaces are opened. Dalton’s Banana Guesthouse on Banana Island for example, has a special election discount package.
For a president to win the elections they must have 55% of all votes. Rumour has it that no political party will be able to get to this percentage, so what is likely to happen is a run-off between the two parties with the most votes. If that is the case, the second round of voting will happen on the 7th of April this year.
Red versus green
As a last insiders tip; do not wear red or green during the election period unless you want to show your political colours. Red is the APC party colour and green is that of SLPP. These are the two largest parties.
Now, how unsafe is it? In general, Sierra Leone has peaceful elections with little incidents. There is no need to leave the country during elections, but some do leave to play it safe. If you want to keep track of the elections check out Sierra Leone Decides, they have a countdown, info on the candidates and in-depth articles.