17 September 2012
The decision of Sierra Leone’s National Electoral Commission to raise the nomination fees for the forthcoming elections, had sent alarm bells across the sub-region; sparking fears of political instability, should opposition parties be denied the right to participate on grounds of affordability.
The decision to increase the nomination fees, which on one level saw a rise of over one thousand percent, was described as an illegal and cynical ploy by the ruling APC party to cause financial hardship for the opposition parties.
But although the opposition political parties last week succeeded in overturning the NEC’s decision, the Elections Commission of the Manor River Union (MRU) – a sub-regional grouping, comprising of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, are very concerned that the government of Sierra Leone was in breach of the ECOWAS Elections Protocol.
The Protocol demands that no member state shall make any significant change to the electoral rules, within six months of the scheduled elections.
The National Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone was in clear breach and flagrant violation of that protocol, prompting a representative group of the MRU Elections Commission to pay president Koroma a visit at State House.
According to reports from State House in Freetown, president Koroma told the MRU delegation that the presidential, parliamentary and local council elections will be used as a tool to consolidate peace, not just in Sierra Leone, but also across the Mano River Union (MRU) basin.
“I am of the view that elections are one of the tools that can be used to consolidate peace,” he said, and therefore urged that it was the responsibility of all MRU citizens to ensure “peaceful, free, fair and transparent elections.”
The president is also said to have told the MRU Commission that, in order to have peaceful elections, an electoral process must guarantee full participation and must be all-embracing, whilst calling for greater experience sharing between and among member states.
“We have had a terrible past as a basin, considering the common history of violence, the period of wars we had experienced. While we are thankful that we have come out of it, we equally have the responsibility to consolidate peace, and I believe that a good number of us have had elections in the past – after our difficulties. We have now started making progress, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in ensuring that we consolidate the progress we have made,” said the president.
He described the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) system as an acceptable best practice as well as having an independent Electoral Commission, adding that; it is only when the Electoral Commission is perceived to be independent by everybody, that members of the public will be able to accept its processes.
On the issue of funding, he noted that for an Electoral Commission to be independent, it is critical that it has adequate funding to organise elections.
The president told the MRU Elections Commission that; there is a lot of benefit to be gained, when member states work together. He called upon the MRU to consolidate their proposals, so as to minimize the costs of holding elections in the sub-region.
According to President Koroma; “although our circumstances are peculiar and our history, culture and traditions are unique in the sub-region, we do not seem to be practicing the same system of governance at all, and where we are as well as where we find ourselves today is enough to let us conceive a system that is workable for transforming the lives of our people.”
He added that the MRU Secretariat should continue with such initiative to make sub-regional democracy work, and get everybody involved in the democratic process, which he referred to as a great challenge that must be confronted.
Replying to president Koroma, the MRU Secretary General leading the delegation – Haja Dr. Sarian Kabba, said that the violent incidents that took place at the elections held in Ivory Coast, Guinea and Liberia, will not occur in the approaching presidential, legislative and local council elections in Sierra Leone.
The MRU has already put the necessary structures in place to ensure that the process is fully secured, which will give the elections credibility, she said.
Dr. Kabba said that it was resolved at the peace and security meeting held with the United Nations family in Sierra Leone, that member states should form a network of electoral commissions, to exchange ideas and share resources.
The MRU Deputy Secretary General – Mrs. Linda Koroma, mentioned the outcome of a consultation meeting, which was held a few days earlier in Freetown, where the issue of violence at the forthcoming elections was discussed.
She said that all parties must accept the results of the elections, once they have been announced.