NEC gaining the confidence of all sides as 2012 election voter registration process picks up pace

22 February 2012

The latest figures released by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) on registered voters for the coming November presidential and general elections in Sierra Leone, show a significant surge, after a rather faulty start. It seems the NEC has finally got its act together, following widespread accusations of poor management and unpreparedness for the challenges ahead of those elections.

The total number of registered voters recorded for the whole country at the end of the first phase of the registration exercise – on 5 February, 2012, stood at 582,712. Although the NEC was heavily criticised for the slow start, many had complained about the bio-metric technology and its effectiveness. But this figure now stands at over 1 Million.

There were reports, that the electricity generators used for powering the computers and the bio-metric machines were faulty, making the registration process cumbersome and frustrating for local people, who are having to queue up for hours waiting to be processed by the NEC staff.

In some parts of the country, there were complaints of the lack of adequate police presence to maintain law and order and discourage intimidation, especially the intimidation of women voters queuing up to register. The police confirmed reports of attempts by unscrupulous individuals engaging in multiple registration.

The Head of the country’s Consumer Protection Agency, said that in the Tonkolili District, Registration Agents arrived late at their stations – with computers not functioning and batteries uncharged.

And mysterious rumours that the cameras used by the biometric machines were distorting the vision of those having their photos taken, and that the finger-imaging machine causes cancer, have not helped the registration process either.

But it seems now, that those hurdles and ripples have been surmounted by the NEC, as the latest report on the accumulated numbers of people registering to vote, appears more positive and encouraging.

On the 16 February, 2012, the total number of people registered across the country was 1,164,322 – compared to 582,712 on the 5 February, 2012. During this period, the number of registered voters for each of the four regions had gone up as follows:

Eastern Region: 103,355 to 251,075; Western Area (Freetown): 154,094 to 285,270; Northern Region: 198,039 to 383,400; and Southern Region: 127,224 to 244,577 – respectively.

The NEC is confident that they will have all 3.1 Million potential voters registered before the polls open on the 17th November 2012.

But meanwhile, the leaders of the political parties have not been left behind, as they too queue up to register to vote. Last week, president Koroma went out to his local electoral Ward in Goderich to have his finger imaging and photograph taken by the biometric machine.

He called upon his supporters to come out and register, in order to avoid being disenfranchised in November.

This week, the main opposition presidential candidate – Mr. Julius Maada Bio, also joined the queue at his Wilberforce Constituency – Ward 387 to register.

Responding to accusations of attempting to cause public disorder and seditious libel, by issuing a press release few weeks ago – accusing the government and the APC of re-arming and redeploying ex-combatants in the opposition stronghold, Maada Bio told the media that:

“The police have no reason asking me to make a statement to them. They’ve had written statements of happenings in Moyamba, Zimmy, Kenema and other areas in the southeast of Sierra Leone.”

“I have enough evidence to prove that the governing APC party has had restless moments deploying ex-combatants at strongholds of the SLPP (southeast) to disrupt the November 17th elections.”

“My assertions concerning APC’s deployments of ex-combatants are true, and I have documentary proofs to the effect; but will not give them to the police, because on number of times the police have proved to be inefficient in the investigation of such matters.’’

“I am here to exercise my franchise to register and vote – come the 2012 elections. I therefore encourage every Sierra Leonean to register for the coming elections. For it is when you register you will have the right to choose your leader for the next five years.”

The Inspector General of Police – Munu, has called on the people of Sierra Leone to ignore the press release issued by the SLPP leader, whilst supporters of the ruling APC party are ironically, now calling for the resignation of the police chief, for failing to take legal action against the SLPP presidential candidate.

But it seems the president and his government have decided to walk away from this row and focus instead on the business of governing the country, whose economy is facing tremendous pressure, as tax receipts fall far short of expectations.

The government is struggling to meet its 2011/2012 public spending obligations. Elections are just nine months away.

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