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UN Radio: Koroma and Berewa speak out

30 August 2007 at 02:12 | 447 views

UN Radio FM103 in Sierra Leone interviewed Ernest Koroma of the All Peoples Congress (APC) Party and Vice President Solomon Berewa who are contesting in a presidential run-off election scheduled for 8 September 2008. The following is a near verbatim transcript of the interviews as aired on Wednesday, 29 August 2007:

Ernest Koroma:

UN Radio: Supporters of APC and SLPP have clashed in parts of the country. Given a chance now to address your supporters especially the youths who may get caught up in such incidents, what message do you have for them?

Koroma: Well we have always been on the side of caution. We have been preaching caution, given in the case of extreme situation. Any independent observer will note that notwithstanding the extreme cases of provocation, we have cautioned our people, we have been telling them, restraining them to be law abiding and to give the police the opportunity to take the appropriate action. And I think so far they have adhered to our plea, and things are not yet out of control. We have the capacity to contain them, to control them, to caution them and we are working on that. We are determined to ensure that we move into the elections as a peaceful party and the elections are conducted in a free and peaceful manner.

UN Radio: It’s being said that no matter which party or which candidate wins the forthcoming run-off on September eighth, everyone in Sierra Leone, the whole country would loose if the campaign period particularly the time after the announcement of the final result is marred by violence. How do you feel about that statement?

Koroma: Well we believe that as a country the gains we have made at the 11 August elections which have been credited by both local and international observers, we must sustain that momentum. It is unfortunate that immediately after the pronouncement of the beginning of the campaign, we have been experiencing clashes. We have responsibility as political party leaders to ensure that we continue with our peace, and appeal to our people to be law abiding.

UN Radio: What is your opinion about the general praise from international observers about the conduct of the just-concluded elections?

Koroma: Well, we have made a statement subscribing to it, we believe that there are a few concerns here and there, but the overall situation has been peaceful and we do hope that we would improve on what we have done. I mean the concerns that we had in the past elections we would improve on them; the lapses that led to the over-voting in stations, the tampering of envelopes, the early start of the polling and all of these are lessons for us to learn. And I believe that if we learn the lessons both NEC and the stakeholders; I think it will be a credit to our country and that is what we should be looking forward to, not to do otherwise because we are now at the crossroads and anything that will earn us credibility and respectability is a thing that we must adopt as a nation and I believe that we a s a party are committed to that direction.

UN Radio: How do you see the role of a strong opposition for the democratic process in Sierra Leone?

Koroma: Oh, I think in any democracy, the stronger the opposition, the better [for] the country in terms of governance. If you have a weak opposition, it will lead to complacency on the part of the government. But when you have a strong opposition, it will put government on its toes and I think the beneficiary, the ultimate beneficiary, will be the people of the country. So we look forward to that, I think that that is at stake.

Solomon Berewa:

UN Radio: Supporters of APC and SLPP have clashed in parts of the country. Given a chance now to address your supporters especially the youths who may get caught up in such incidents, what message do you have for them?

Berewa: Well I will repeat what I have always repeated to my supporters that we do not have to use violence in campaigning; we do not have to harass people as an instrument for campaigning. We must always ensure that peace prevails, that we should go on, trying to win the hearts and minds of the people. We should not force them; we should not do anything that would embarrass them. In the final analysis there are rights that we should protect. This is what I will tell them and this is what I have always told them. We’ve got our own people to know that, to accept that, and I hope others to tell their own supporters to do the same.

UN Radio: It’s being said that no matter which party or which candidate wins the forthcoming run-off on September eighth, everyone in Sierra Leone, the whole country would loose if the campaign period particularly the time after the announcement of the final result is marred by violence. How do you feel about that statement?

Berewa: It is so true, it is so true. Violence is not justified at any time whatsoever, whether campaign time or no campaign time. We the leaders of the political parties that are now contesting the forthcoming elections should know that and should emphasize this on our members, we should not embark on violence, we should not intimidate the citizens. After all we say it’s for them that we’re going into this thing. How can we now continue to exercise violence against them or intimidation? We should not extract their support by force, we should not extract their support by intimidation or violence or harassment. We should campaign to win their hearts so that they would go freely to the polling booth and then cast their votes for who they want. It doesn’t matter who, as long as they do it without any form of harassment. That’s what I think should happen. If that goes on then the elections would be respected, it would be credible and so forth, otherwise it would not.

UN Radio: What is your opinion about the general praise from international observers about the conduct of the just-concluded elections?

Berewa: Well, of course, as a senior member of this government, I think I should be proud that we created the necessary environment to have a free and fair election. Any observer looking at the process superficially will see it as a free and fair process. What could have happened before the process or in between it which observers would not see is quite a different matter. But if you saw a - people were in cue they went to vote, it was quite free and fair and I think the government deserves credit for that; creating the environment for it.

UN Radio: Now Mr. Berewa on Monday night His Excellency the President Dr Ahmad Tejan Kabbah threatened to declare a state of emergency if the present spate of violence escalates. What is your reaction to that kind of statement? What would be the consequence for Sierra Leone’s new democracy if that line of action is taken?

Berewa: Well I think he was just acting as a responsible president, warning the population that if at all the present trend of the lawlessness continues, if the present trend of insecurity being meted out to the population continues, if they are not checked, then the only thing he has is to invoke the law and the Constitution to stop it. I don’t think he wants to do it, I don’t think he even contemplated it. But the incidents have become so repetitive all over the place that any person who is a responsible president would not sit idly by and see them continue that’s what he was doing. The best way to preserve our democracy is to behave within the law. That’s the better way to preserve our democracy; acting through violence, through intimidation, by harassment to other citizens is not acting within the law. It is that that would destroy democracy. If measures are taken to bring that to an end then those measures would enhance our democracy, not the other way round.

UN Radio: Okay, finally, would you be willing to meet with Mr. Koroma to show the people of Sierra Leone that the issue of politics is just a game and that you are not enemies, you are both friends and you are just contesting for the high seat of power in this country and nothing more?

Berewa: I would be more than delighted to see him, hug him or him to hug me and for us to talk politics, real politics; I would be more than delighted to do that. In spite of everything, politicians would come and go. We should be Sierra Leoneans; we should have the same objectives there is no point fighting over it, there is no point quarrelling, there is no point harassing anybody for it; we should not allow others who may have their own agenda to influence our conduct to each other. That’s the type of thing I would like to tell you.

Source: UNDP.

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