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Sierra Leone President Says US Pressured Him To Interfere In Vote

Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio delivers a keynote speech at the American University School of International Service in Washington, DC, on September 15, 2023. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP)

Sierra Leone’s president accused the US of forcing him to interfere in his country’s June 24 election count, a comment that contrasted sharply with Washington’s concerns about the poll’s impartiality.

“When the elections were at the height — of calling the results — this is when the problems started,” President Julius Maada Bio said during a speaking event at American University in Washington.

The Election Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL), he said, “had done all their calculations, collations, all the processes. I was now requested to stop them from calling the result by the United States. So I don’t know who is accusing who of interference.”

“They are an independent, semiautonomous body,” the president said of the ECSL. “I declined, and I said I have never called this institution, I am not going to call them now.”

Bio, 59, was reelected in a disputed vote criticized by both the opposition and international observers.

Following the election, delegations from the United States, European Union, France, Ireland, and Germany issued a united statement in which they expressed their worry “about the lack of transparency in the tabulation process.”

Some predicted that the country’s high inflation and dismal economic situation would provide an opening for the opposition ahead of the election. Bio received 56.17 percent of the vote, which was slightly more than the 55 percent required to avoid a runoff.

The State Department imposed visa restrictions on persons “believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining democracy in Sierra Leone,” including through vote rigging or intimidation of election monitors, on August 31.

The names of those targeted were not made public, and visa decisions are confidential under US law.

“Elections are always contentious issues, no matter where they happen in the world, including the United States,” Bio said during the event at his alma mater, where he earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees following his move to the United States, after handing over power from the military junta he briefly led to a democratically elected government in the 1990s.

When “the United States casts doubt on the credibility (of the election), you are calling for a coup,” Bio said.

“The same representatives of the United States have told us that in any case, they just wanted a second round. In any case, I was going to win, because all the polls have made that clear.”

Sierra Leonean Information Minister Chernor Bah told AFP that “I cannot speak to the US motivation” behind allegedly asking Bio to interfere in the ECSL’s announcement.

“You’ll have to ask the US that.”

Freetown still has a “great relationship” with Washington and looks forward to maintaining it, Bio said.

Written by PH

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