FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone’s Supreme Court has banned the country’s main opposition party from meeting to choose its presidential candidate, sparking accusations of government interference.
The Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP) had planned to hold a convention on Saturday to select a candidate to run next year against President Ernest Bai Koroma and the incumbent All Peoples’ Congress (APC), which has held power since 2007.
The 2012 presidential election will take place a decade after the end of Sierra Leone’s devastating civil war and is seen as a test of the West African country’s ability to recover.
The court’s decision, announced late on Monday, means it is now unclear when the SLPP will be able to choose their candidate and start campaigning.
“Such acts serve as a recipe for instability,” Jacob Jusu Saffa, the SLPP’s national secretary-general, told Reuters.
Saffa pointed to a 2005 ruling that the court does not have jurisdiction over the workings of political parties and said the injunction was politically motivated.
“The only thing that has changed (since the 2005 ruling) is that the APC are in government,” he said.
Politics in Sierra Leone is drawn on ethnic and regional rather than ideological lines. The APC draws from the Temne people of the north, while the SLPP is rooted in the Mende of the south and east.
Most at stake is whether the country can hold a smooth election and go on to build an economy able to benefit from new offshore oil finds and resource riches such as iron ore.
The court injunction followed a lawsuit by Bu-Buakei Jabbi, himself an SLPP presidential hopeful, in which he argued the SLPP earlier this year wrongfully extended the mandates of some of its officials so they could vote in the March convention.
“It is to make sure that they correct certain things that would otherwise mitigate against the party itself in the 2012 presidential elections,” Jabbi told Reuters, suggesting the APC could use the issue to contest any election defeat next year.
The SLPP leadership believe Jabbi may be acting on behalf of the government, an accusation Jabbi firmly denied.
“In my firm opinion he’s trying to put spanners in the work of the SLPP,” said Musa Tamba Charles, the party’s spokesman.
Information Minister Ibrahim Kargbo also denied both that Jabbi was acting in the interest of the incumbent government and that pressure had been put on the judiciary.
“He is my exact contemporary, we grew up together, and I know him very well,” he said. “He never compromises.”