Opposition infighting threatens S.Leone election

Mon May 9, 2011 3:26pm GMT

By Simon Akam

FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone's main opposition party is locked in a court battle that has so far prevented it from choosing a candidate for next year's presidential election, threatening its chances against the ruling party.

The poll will be the West African country's third since the end of a devastating civil war in 2002, and will serve as the latest test of its fragile recovery and the strength of its multi-party governance.

"What is happening is a level of dysfunction in the secretariat and the current leadership," said Dr. Lansana Gberie, a Sierra Leonean researcher and author of a history of the 11-year civil war.

"It may drag on and on; that's going to be a very serious problem for them, and for competitive politics in Sierra Leone."

At stake is whether the former British colony can hold a smooth poll and go on to build an economy able to benefit from offshore oil finds and resource riches such as iron ore.

Since coming to power in 2007, President Ernest Bai Koroma has improved road and energy infrastructure and overseen large-scale minerals deals, but the country remains one of the poorest in the world.

The opposition Sierra Leone People's Party was meant to hold its convention in early March to select its candidate, or "flag-bearer", to run against Koroma, but two months later it has not taken place.

The delay came about after one of the party's would-be candidates, Bu-Buakei Jabbi, took the party to court claiming it had wrongfully extended the mandates of some of its officials.   Continued...

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