Sierra Leone’s parliament descended into chaos on Wednesday, with a major brawl between government and opposition MPs.
Lawmakers in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital and largest city, were debating the government’s plan to introduce a new proportional representation electoral system for the country, as violence began.
Footage posted online shows rival members of parliament, from the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and opposition All People’s Congress (APC), pushing and throwing furniture at each other.
Violence broke out at 6 a.m. ET, with Africa News reporting that police entered the room to separate the warring factions and drive out some suspected troublemakers.
Sierra Leone’s Election Commission has recommended that the country switch to a proportional voting system ahead of local and parliamentary elections in 2023, although this would not affect presidential elections.
The move, which requires parliamentary approval, is backed by the government but fiercely opposed by opposition politicians who have labeled it unconstitutional.
Chernor Maju Bah, aka Chericoco, leader of the APC, called the proposal a “serious violation of the constitution,” in an article for the Sierra Leone Telegraph.
He argued that it would “significantly reverse the gains we made in strengthening democracy in post-war Sierra Leone” if implemented.
The country suffered an 11-year civil war from 1991 to 2002, during which the UK and US-backed government took on a number of rebel groups.
Bah added: “Using the PR system instead of the constituency system would be tantamount to taking away the people’s rights to directly elect their representatives and transferring that power to political parties.”
Sierra Leone president Julius Maada Bio has launched a major initiative to improve education in the country, giving it nearly a quarter of the national budget by 2022.
In conversation with British newspaper The protectorhe said: “We put all our resources, all our energy into education. We cannot develop without improving education. I see it as an existential issue.
“I had to walk to school barefoot, with not even shoes on my feet. For me to get to this level of leadership, I think education played a very important role.”
According to UNESCO’s Institute of Statistics (UIS), the literacy rate for those aged 15 and over in Sierra Leone is only 43 percent.
Sierra Leone is one of 67 UN member states that still prohibit same-sex relationships by law.
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