11 June 2012
With the dark and ominous clouds of bad policing and poor police supervision, darkening the horizon of what should be a free and fair election in Sierra Leone in November, 2012, there is still hope for the will and resolve of the people to be heard.
The continuing breakdown of law and order in a country so fragile, yet still regarded to be on life support – with the aid of the international community, there is a desperate need to shore up confidence and build trust, if anarchy and political instability are to be avoided.
The onus is on president Koroma – who prides his first term in office on the efforts that he has made, in encouraging international investors to help resuscitate the country’s ailing and dilapidated mining industry.
Only he can ensure and guarantee the safety and security of all citizens in the country. The president must take a strong hold of the police force by the scruff of the neck, so it can avoid degenerating into the criminalized institution it once was, under previous APC governments of the 1970s and 1980s.
Opposition politicians have strongly condemned the reckless violence unleashed by AK47 trigger happy OSD police force last week, on unarmed youths in the eastern district of Freetown.
There is growing nervousness in the country that the unprofessional behaviour and politicization of the police force may derail the peaceful and fair conduct of the elections in November.
But the leader of the opposition National Democratic Alliance Party – Mr. Mohamed Chernor Bah is hopeful. This is what he says, as he looks back at previous elections in Sierra Leone:
This 2012 election is not about the South versus the North or an incumbent versus a renegade military Junta, it is about the survival of our hard-earned peace- that must be consolidated, secured and maintained.
Come what may, on that bright November morning, the third Saturday of that historical month, Sierra Leoneans will be going to the polls to elect their President and parliamentarians.
Not like the 1967 election when sporadic fighting and instability took over the streets.
With 44.25% or (286,585) of the votes, Siaka Steven won, but was abruptly denied the Presidency by Brigadier David Lansana, only to be reinstated in 1968 by Brigadier John Amadu Bangura after the so-called “sergeants coup.”
Whilst on May 15, 1973, during the House of Representatives election, peace and tranquility prevailed because only the APC contested – as the sole legal political party at the time. There were no registered voters, but the APC maintained 84 seats in parliament with one independent.
Then came May 6, 1977, with the legacy of the one party dynasty, there were no official registered voters, but according to election records, total valid votes counted at the House of Representatives election were 686,810.
Elections were postponed in the southern district of Bo due to violence.
But the Siaka Stevens’ undemocratic era saw the return of eight members of the APC, which added the party’s share of seats in parliament to 70.
Furthermore, the June 5-12, 1978 constitutional referendum was the official endorsement of a one party status quo, which began the registration of voters. The “YES’ votes were 2,152,460 or 97.15% and the “NO” votes 63, 186 or 2.85% – with a total registered voters of 2,235,400.
The only good news with that milestone event was the prevalence of peace and stability.
Did the one party system create the avoidance of violence and instability? Was that a legitimate referendum or the manifestation of the nature of the political reality at the time? Certainly so.
Indeed, the 1978 referendum gave birth to a single – party election in May 1, 1982, with the APC as the sole legal party at the ballot box.
Democracy was trampled upon, mercilessly delayed and the people of Sierra Leone’s constitutional right to elect their leaders was disparagingly ignored and abused.
The 1978 referendum signaled the beginning of validating the people’s voice, despite Siaka Stevens’ ill-intentioned motive at the onset.
Whilst the October 1, 1985, Presidential election saw the ascendancy of army major – Joseph Saidu Momoh in a referendum style election with no registered voters, but again the “YES” votes were 2, 780,495 (99.85%) and the “NO” votes 4,096 (0.15%).
The total validated votes then, were 2,784, 591. His tenure subsequently brought a pluralistic democracy and a long civil conflict in Sierra Leone.
The ominous act of the 1978 referendum evidently became a precursor for the 1991 constitutional referendum for a multi-party system. What was a strategy of engagement in the past, became a weapon of defeat for the Joseph Siadu Momoh’s government in the early 1991.
The August 23-30, 1991 referendum was a watershed moment in Sierra Leone’s political history. With 2,500,000 registered voters, 1,500,000 voted “YES” and 375,000 voted “NO.”
Again, the total valid votes were 1,875,000 – the biggest victory democracy had ever seen in the continent of Africa in general and Sierra Leone in particular.
However, these referenda style elections laid the ground work for subsequent credible elections like the 1996 Presidential and Parliamentary elections.
Not only where they peaceful and calm in nature, but more than 1,600,000 (one million, six hundred thousands) of Sierra Leoneans participated and voted for their candidates of choice.
Whilst the voter turnout in 1996 were low in the first round – 745,511, Alhaji Amhed Tejan Kabba (SLPP) gained 35.80%, John Karefa-Smart (UNPP) – 22.62%, Thaimu Bangura (PDP) scoring 16.07%. Total valid votes in the second round strikingly increased to 1,022.754.
And President Kabba commanded victory in the runners up with 59.49% of the vote.
Relatively, no violence was documented and the people of Sierra Leone enjoyed their democratic rights to vote.
And the May 14, 2002 Presidential election saw the biggest margin of victory by a Presidential incumbent. President Kabba (SLPP) won 70.06% of the votes (1,336,423) and Ernest Bai Koroma (APC) garnered 426,405 or 22.35%.
There were 2,342,547 registered voters. The SLPP gained 83 seats, APC 27 seats and Peace and Liberation Party (PLP) won 2 seats.
Again, the outcome of the 2002 elections was peaceful, democratic and broadly participatory.
Voter registration in Sierra Leone seems to be gaining an increasing trend, with the development of an electoral machinery and structure that is capable of conducting transparent and credible elections.
The August/September 2007 election was the most peaceful and democratically conducted, particularly in Sierra Leone and Africa in general. Sierra Leone became a poster child of an opposition party winning the Presidency and parliamentary seats.
With 2,619,000 registered voters, in the first round, Ernest Bai Korma – APC won 44.34% of the votes (815,523) and the incumbent Vice President – Solomon Berewa SLPP won 38.28% (704,012). The total valid votes counted were 1,839,208 with 144, 898 invalidated.
Accordingly, the total registered voters in the second round, which took place on September 8, 2007, were 2,619,000. The opposition APC’s Ernest Bai Koroma won 54.62% or (950,407) and the incumbent Vice President – Solomon Berewa gained 45.38% or (789,651) of the votes.
And the total valid votes at the second round were 1,740,058 with 43,793 invalidated or voided. Also, on August 11, 2007, 59 parliamentary seats were won by the opposition APC, 43 seats by the governing SLPP and 10 seats by the PMDC.
In preparation for the 2012 elections, the National Electoral commission (NEC) had released the number of voters on the Biometric voter registration, which currently stands at 2,701,299.
This is slightly less than the projected target of 3,000,000 targeted for November 17, 2012. Historically by far, this is the largest voter registration exercise in the history of Sierra Leone.
The level of sophistication, transparency and competency of the NEC Staff and administration are particularly commendable. The voter registration process was very peaceful, well organized and impressive.
According to the time line for exhibition, distribution and inquiry schedule of NEC, from June 1, 2012 to August 13, 2012, the training of exhibition staff, distribution of Provisional Voters Register (PVR) and voter ID cards to district and ward level would be taking place.
The objection to Provisional Voters Register would commence and publications of statements of claims will be available.
Also, the process of conducting inquiry in each of the 394 wards, the retrieval of exhibition inquiry, matching inclusion data and printing of inclusion voter ID cards, the printing and gazetting of final voter register (FVR) will be done by August 13, 2012.
Indeed, what a remarkable and transparent system set up by NEC, which is a test to the country’s new democratic capabilities. It is a new day in Sierra Leone when we look back to how far we have come – in terms of elections and violence.
Gone are the days of the one party elections, the fear to get-out- and-vote and the political brutality of innocent law abiding citizens.
To those who see a violent election, history does not support that view and expectation today.
The people of Sierra Leone seek a future that is free from violence and wants advancement in the areas of the economy, education, Agriculture, medicine and technology.
Thus, this 2012 election is not about the South versus the North or an incumbent versus a renegade military Junta, it is about the survival of our hard-earned peace- that must be consolidated, secured and maintained.
It is about the center of gravity where our shared interest and commonality are connected and grounded – that which holds us together as Sierra Leoneans, regardless of our party loyalty and ethnic make-ups.
The November 17, 2012 election will be peaceful because, the people of Sierra Leone rejects conflict and embrace peace in the name of love.
No Sierra Leonean should pack up to live or be afraid to come home and vote. This election will be the most peaceful in our nation’s history.
We understand the tears and blood of a senseless conflict. We know what is at stake when we set fire to our neighbor’s house or shoot innocent citizens.
We refuse to hold back our children’s future and we are tired of seeing our youths walking around with no limbs and hands.
We can no longer afford to have politicians and their families live securely in gated mansions, while the dying youths suffer in the bloody streets with no medical care and no future.
The international criminal court is watching for heartless politicians who may be over ambitious and overzealous to commit crimes of inhumanity.
We are after all, the people hailed from the “Lion Mountain” – a settlement for the Nova Scotians slaves who were searching for freedom and dignity; a home where the Bullom and Sherbros lived for many years in peace without fear.
That is why November 17, 2012 will be another golden opportunity to tell the world that we can live in peace and harmony without war.
May our nation continue to be the realm of the free.
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