SLeone president names scandal-hit VP as running mate

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Sierra Leone’s president named his scandal-hit vice president as his running mate in next month’s election, in a bet Samuel Sam Sumana’s religious and ethnic background will draw votes from the opposition.

Broadcaster Al Jazeera reported in November last year members of Vice President Sumana’s office had accepted bribes in return for a promise he would back an illegal logging project, allegations that led to the arrest of two men.

Authorities said there was no evidence Sumana knew of the kick-backs and he has denied having any involvement, Reuters reports.

But the furore around the graft case embarrassed the government of President Ernest Bai Koroma, who had promised to fight rampant corruption in the West African country.

Many commentators in Sierra Leone had expected the president to drop Sumana before the November 17 election.

Koroma’s decision to keep Sumana on the ticket was announced on national radio on Monday.
“The (…) president simply believes you don’t go about changing a winning team,” Information Minister Ibrahim Ben Kargbo said during the broadcast.

He later told Reuters the government was aware “there are quite a number of hurdles” in Sumana’s history. But he said Koroma, a Christian, wanted a Muslim running mate, and also needed someone who was not from the traditional northern stronghold of the ruling All People’s Congress party.

Sumana was also named in a U.S. lawsuit that alleged bribery in a separate timber deal, although that suit was later dismissed. Neither Sumana nor his spokesman responded to requests for comment on Monday.

Sierra Leone’s election will be its third since the end of a bloody civil war ended 10 years ago, and will be seen as a bellwether of the resource-rich country’s recovery.

Banja Tejan-Sie, national secretary general of the opposition SLPP – whose candidate in the November polls is former junta leader Julius Maada Bio – said Koroma’s selection of Sumana as running mate would backfire.
“The people of Sierra Leone will decide whether they like a man of his stature, a man who has brought so much shame to his country, to continue in that position,” he told Reuters.

Politics in Sierra Leone is traditionally drawn on ethnic lines: the ruling All People’s Congress party takes its support from the Temne and Limba tribes of the north while the Sierra Leone People’s Party, the main opposition, are rooted in the Mende of the south and east.

Sumana comes from Kono, a diamond-mining district in the east with an ethnically mixed population of migrant gem-diggers, and therefore a perennial swing state in elections.