Under the 1995 constitution Sierra Leone is a republic with an executive president, a multiparty democracy and a unicameral parliament. The president is head of state and government.
The president appoints a cabinet, together with a government, with the approval of the legislature (the House of Representatives). Executive power is vested in the government.
Presidential and parliamentary elections are held at least every five years, under universal adult suffrage and proportional representation.
The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal and has jurisdiction in constitutional matters. It also has responsibility for the administration of the judicial system, which includes the Court of Appeal, the High Court and the magistrates’ courts. The most serious civil and criminal cases and appeals from the magistrates’ courts come before the High Court. Appeals from the High Court and from certain special courts are heard by the Court of Appeal.
The independence constitution was abrogated during the series of military coups which followed. The 1971 constitution allowed for a ceremonial president; an amendment later that year created an executive presidency. A new constitution in 1978 established a one-party state, with the All People’s Congress (APC) as the recognised party, and there was further constitutional amendment in 1985.
The 1991 constitution marked a return to a multiparty system, with many of the parliamentary features of the independence constitution, though the country was to remain a republic with an executive presidency. Implementation of this constitution was interrupted by an army coup. The National Provisional Ruling Council became the governing body, and rule was by decree.
These developments were in turn reversed by the implementation of the 1995 constitution, which (with amendments) restored the 1991 constitution.
The name Sierra Leone originates from ‘Serra Leao’, meaning ‘Lion Mountain Range’ in Portuguese. The Portuguese explorer Pedro de Cintra gave the country its present name in about 1642. Freetown, today the capital and largest city of Sierra Leone, became a British colony in 1808 and the coastal and inland area became a protectorate in 1896.
By 1956 the House of Representatives had emerged, and by 1957 most men and many women were eligible to vote. In 1961 Sierra Leone became independent.
At independence, two parties shared the vote in a multiparty system: the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and the APC. A number of military coups followed in quick succession. In 1978 the country became a one-party state, with the APC as the sole party.
A referendum in 1991 showed the overwhelming endorsement of a return to multiparty democracy. The 1991 multiparty constitution was not, however, implemented. Later that year, civil war broke out when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) crossed into Sierra Leone from Liberia and attempted to unseat the one-party system presided over by Major General Joseph Momoh of the APC. The civil war officially ended in 2002.
Following signature of the July 1999 peace agreement, presidential and parliamentary elections were held in May 2002. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and the SLPP won a landslide victory in the elections; the RUF did not win any seats in the parliamentary election.
In the 2007 parliamentary election, the APC won the largest number of seats (59), while the SLPP won 43. In the presidential election, since no candidate received the 55% needed to secure the presidency, the leading two candidates, Ernest Bai Koroma of the APC and Solomon Berewa of the SLPP went into a second round. Koroma received 54.6% of second-round votes and was sworn in as president.