Sierra Leone Telegraph: 05 June 2017
The Court of Appeal in Sierra Leone has today ended months of uncertainty about where the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) should now be heading, if it is to be allowed by the Electoral Commission and the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) to participate in next year’s general and presidential elections.
After hearing evidence from both sides of the argument, the three Judges were unanimous in their deliberations: The SLPP must now conduct a re-run of the disputed internal party constituency elections which were held last year.
But many SLPP rank and file members will today be left asking – how did the SLPP get into this self-destructive and time-consuming mess?
Following the imposition of a Supreme Court order last year, which directed the party to adhere to strict guidelines to be laid down by the PPRC for the proper conduct of all internal regional, district, local area, and national executive officers elections, the PPRC published a notice in the National Gazette, demanding that SLPP must first publish a full list of its membership before those internal party elections are held.
The gazetted ‘Government Notice No. 16, Vol.CXLVII. No. 5 – Rules and Regulations for the Conduct of Executive Elections of the SLPP’ reads: “Before a zonal / sectional /constituency /district / regional / elections takes place, the list of voters / delegates shall be published and circulated to all aspirants concerned for a period of not less than five (5) days prior to the date fixed for such election. Every aspirant in such elections has a right of access to the voters / delegates list without let or hindrance.”
But on 17th of February 2016, the former Secretary General of the party – Jacob Jusu Saffa, wrote a letter to the PPRC in reply, strongly objecting to this legal requirement, saying: “As you would know, eligible voters at zonal/sectional level are all fully paid valid card holders of the Party. The requirement for voter register to be published for zonal/sectional election pre-supposes we have a database of SLPP members in all zones and sections.
“Unfortunately, we do not have such database that can be used as voter register at that level. It is therefore not practical for the list to be published or even compiled for every zone/section in the country.
“In the past, the practice for voting at zonal or sectional level has been that all persons over 18 years resident in the zone/section show up at the polling station to vote on submission of valid membership card on the date announced for elections and as prescribed by the Rules and Regulations.
“On a general note, we usually do not know all aspirants for all elections before the date of the elections. Aspirants are nominated in the voting hall when the positions are declared vacant and nominations opened.
“Therefore, mandating executives to make available the list to aspirant 5 days before conduct of elections can be a recipe for chaos. Anybody wishing to derail the process can show up as aspirant on the date of voting and object to the conduct of the election on the basis that she/he has not been granted access to the voter register.”
This objection went on to strongly influence the decision of the party’s executive officers to go ahead with those elections in contravention of the PPRC gazetted ‘Government Notice No. 16, Vol.CXLVII No. 5 – Rules and Regulations for the Conduct of Executive Elections of the SLPP’ – which called on the party to ensure that: “Before a zonal / sectional /constituency /district / regional / elections takes place, the list of voters / delegates shall be published and circulated to all aspirants concerned for a period of not less than five (5) days prior to the date fixed for such election. Every aspirant in such elections has a right of access to the voters / delegates list without let or hindrance.”
Once those elections were held and the results appeared skewed – in favour of one faction against the other, another court case was inevitable. But what was not inevitable, is today’s court ruling.
So, what did the Appeal Court Judges look at today, before arriving at their decision to instruct the party to conduct a re-run of those elections?
A senior Lawyer who has been following this case, told the Sierra Leone Telegraph, that: “The gazetted rules published by the PPRC did not come into effect. There were objections to those rules which were never resolved. Also, the gazetted rules that were amended by the party executives, did not come into effect either.
“The PPRC gave no guidelines on how to deal with S.24 objections. Are they to be published in the gazette? These were not. Should the PPPRC have given date for the coming into effect? They gave no date in this case. Neither of the rules came into effect.
“The complaint of electoral irregularities involved 39 constituencies. This is 35% of the total number of constituencies nationwide. This is too significant a concern to be over looked. All irregularities were related to confusion over which set of rules were in force.
“Thus, choosing one set of election results over the other, will leave participants in the rejected parallel election disenfranchised. The electoral irregularities did occur.
“The esteemed Judges had no option but to conclude that the affected elections need to be annulled, and that fresh elections must be conducted in these constituencies – using the gazetted rules.
“These gazetted rules are to be used just for this purpose …to serve a necessity for common rules and to avoid confusion – whilst saving time which may be lost if the full statutory provisions are resorted to at this stage.”
So the Appeal Court Judges decision is final and clear: SLPP must now conduct a re-run of all the disputed constituency elections.
Reacting to the court’s decision, the Acting National Publicity Secretary of the SLPP – Lahai Lawrence Leema, put out this statement: “The Court of Appeal has ruled that the 39 constituencies in contention be rerun using the Gazetted Rules and Regulations 2016 of the Party.
“The SLPP therefore calls on its membership to remain calm and respect the Court of Appeal Judgment and prepare to support the Party to go through the rerun of the 39 constituencies as ordered. It is the Party that has won.”
What remains to be seen now, is whether the various protagonists will accept today’s court ruling with magnanimity in victory, and maturity in defeat. SLPP just cannot afford another court battle. It will most certainly sink the party into oblivion.
Some key points of today’s ruling: