Sierra Leone Telegraph: 20 June 2023:
The Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) yesterday launched its election observation activities in Sierra Leone at the Raddison Blue Hotel in Freetown, with a call for peaceful elections that will reflect the will of the people.
Speaking at the press conference, the Chairman of the COG, H.E. Prof Yemi Osinbajo, former Vice President of Nigeria, urged all citizens in Sierra Leone to do their part to ensure that a peaceful and credible process takes place this coming Saturday – 24 June 2023.
At least 17 registered political parties are contesting local council, parliamentary and presidential elections, with approximately 3.37 million registered voters expected at the polls. It will be the fifth time the Commonwealth is observing national elections in Sierra Leone since the end of the Civil War in 2002.
Photo: Commonwealth election observers to Sierra Leone – press conference
Prof. Osinbajo said: “The eyes of more than 2.5 billion people of the Commonwealth – more than 60% of whom are young people under the age of 30 – will be upon Sierra Leone. Watching, in solidarity and in hope.
“The peaceful and prosperous future of the nation lies in your hands. And in that future, violence, division and hate cannot play a part. The hard lessons that history has taught us through the tragic loss of lives and livelihoods – we cannot afford to repeat.”
Prof Osinbajo, who arrived in Freetown on 17 June, is leading a group of 11 other international experts to observe and assess the election process.
He emphasised that the Observer Group has no executive role. Its function is not to interfere with, but to independently observe the pre-election environment, polling day and in the post-election period. The group will then provide recommendations to improve the process.
The COG commenced intensive briefings over the past weekend and will spend the coming days in discussions with various stakeholders, including the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone, government representatives, political parties, security agencies, civil society groups, citizen and international observer groups, diplomats and the media.
From 22 June, Commonwealth observers will be deployed in small teams across various parts of the country to observe the voting, counting and results process, as well as meet with other stakeholders in respective locations.
Among other factors, the observers will assess whether conditions exist for credible elections, including a fair election environment; whether public media has been impartial; the transparency of the entire process; whether voters are free to express their will; and whether the counting and results process is transparent.
The COG plans to issue an interim statement on its preliminary findings on 26 June, before members depart Sierra Leone by 30 June.
Prof. Osinbajo also said that: “In conducting our duties, we will be guided by the principles of neutrality, impartiality, objectivity and independence. As we are here in our individual capacities as eminent and experienced Commonwealth citizens, our assessment will be our own, and not that of any member government.
“As this great nation expresses its will for its future, may peace, justice and national unity prevail above all. We enjoin all political parties and their supporters to uphold the commitments of the Electoral Pledge to free, fair and violence-free elections, admirably signed barely two weeks ago.”
A final report by the COG will be subsequently prepared and submitted to the Commonwealth Secretary-General. Then, it will be shared with relevant stakeholders, including the public.
Members of the Commonwealth Observer Group include Chairman Yemi Osinbajo, Former Vice President of Nigeria; Mr John Njie, National General Secretary (Executive Director) of The Gambia YMCA & National Coordinator of the CSO Transitional Justice Working Group, The Gambia; Lady Anande Trotman-Joseph, President, Caribbean Women in Leadership & Chairperson, Commonwealth Caribbean Association of Integrity Commissions and Anti-Corruption Bodies, Grenada; Dr Nasim Zaidi, Former Chairman & Chief Election Commissioner, India; Hon Justice Amraphael Mbogholi Msagha, Retired Judge, Kenya; Mr Sangwani Mwafulirwa, Director, Media and Public Relations, Malawi; Dr Elsie Nghikembua, Chairperson, Electoral Commission, Namibia; Ms Cynthia Mbamalu, Co-Founder and Director of Programmes, Yiaga Africa, Nigeria; Mr Glen Mashinini, Commissioner, Electoral Commission, South Africa; Justice Rohini Marasinghe, Chairperson of The Human Rights Commission and Former Supreme Court Judge, Sri Lanka; Mr Wesley Gibbings, Journalist/Media Trainer, Trinidad & Tobago; and Ms Elizabeth Lwanga King, Development Advisor and Former UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative in Sierra Leone, Uganda.