- Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 August 2019:
A parliamentary By-election taking place today, in the rural constituency 110 of Hamilton in Freetown, will be fiercely contested. The three main parties vying for the people’s votes are the ruling SLPP party, the opposition APC and the National Grand Coalition (NGC) party.
The bye-election came about as a result of a High Court petition won by the ruling SLPP, calling for the 2018 parliamentary election result to be annulled and fresh election held.
The seat was won at the 2018 election by the main opposition APC by a small, though significant majority. But the ruling SLPP claimed that the APC won the election through electoral malpractice, hence the court petition.
But today’s by-election in Hamilton is already tainted with accusations from the opposition APC of bullying tactics employed by the ruling SLPP, with the arrest of 23 members of the opposition APC, following violent clashes between the SLPP and APC last month in Hamilton.
The opposition APC says that the arrests are designed to weaken its ability to mount a strong campaign ahead of today’s election.
The opposition APC detainees appeared in court again this week, hoping to be released on bail. But bail was once again denied by the magistrate.
According to the APC, there was no justification for denying bail, given that the SLPP candidate for today’s by-election – Josephine Jackson – under whose allegations the APC supporters have been arrested and detained, did not appear in court for cross-examination, nor did any witness or police investigators.
The case was adjourned yet again to August 30th 2019 – six days after the by-election. The opposition APC detainees were all sent back to Pademba Road Prison.
Yet more controversy has now emerged, after the country’s National Electoral Commission (NEC) published a statement yesterday, informing the political parties and electorate about the NEC’s plans for tallying of results of today’s by-elections taking place in Hamilton and other areas.
“The National Electoral Commission (NEC) wishes to inform contesting political parties and the general public that tallying of results for Parliamentary Election for Constituency 110 in the Western Area Rural District, will be done at the NEC National Data Centre at Wellington Industrial Estate, immediately after the close of polls on the 24th August, 2019.
“Tallying of results for Local Council Bye Election in Ward 034, Kenema District, will be done at the Sierra Leone Teachers Union District Office at 58 Wahman Abu Road, Kenema City, immediately after the close of polls, also on the 24th August 2019.
“The announcement of certified election results for Constituency 110, Western Area Rural District and Ward 034 Kenema District will take place on Sunday, 25th August 2019 at 11:a.m at the NEC Conference Room at the NEC Headquarters, Tower Hill,” the NEC statement reads.
But reactions to this statement from the NEC have been swift and damning. Opposition parties are condemning the NEC and accusing the electoral body of planning to rig the by-election in favour of the ruling SLPP candidate.
The opposition National Grand Coalition (NGC) party of Dr. Kandeh Yumkella has published this statement, condemning the NEC’s plans:
“The National Grand Coalition Party (NGC) would like to inform the general public that we vehemently oppose the highly suspicious measures announced in the NEC Press Release of 22nd August 2019, stating that: a) tallying for the above mentioned bye election will be done at the NEC National Data Center at Wellington, instead of at the usual venue i.e. the NEC Western Area Rural District office in Waterloo; and b) announcement of the certified results will take place not at the tallying site immediately after the election but rather the following day at NEC Headquarters.
“These changes in our opinion signal the start of yet another attempt by NEC to undermine the integrity of the electoral process and make room for official tampering with the results.
“Only a few months ago, our party was forced to temporarily suspend our participation in the elections due to stark irregularities during the Tonko Limba elections such as issuance of fake ballot papers, ballot stuffing, and more significantly the announcement of results in spite of AN INCOMPLETE PUBLIC TALLYING PROCESS.
“It is unfortunate that the action now taken by the Chief Electoral Commissioner gives us a sense of déjà-vu, and of a return to the Tonko Limba type election. In Constituency 110 at the moment there is a highly charged atmosphere as tensions keep rising.
“Yet these changes made are so provocative that we are wondering what the real motives are. Already we are receiving reports of a very significant build-up of police security around the Peninsula area, creating precisely the atmosphere that intimidates and keeps voters away.
“We have therefore called on the Chief Electoral Commissioner to reverse his decision and to avoid all action that would endanger the security of our people and undo the sanctity of our democracy. Signed: Dr. Dennis Bright Chairman and Leader”.
There are about 30,000 electorate in the Hamilton Constituency 110. In the March 2018 general elections, the APC party won this seat with almost 50% of the votes with 14,342; the SLPP candidate came second, polling 12,092 votes.