Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 March 2018:
As Sierra Leone’s electoral body fights for its life this morning, pressure continues to mount on its leadership to provide answers to allegations of electoral fraud and malpractice, which critics say took place at the March 7 presidential and general elections.
Last Saturday, the High Court granted temporary injunction on preparations for the holding of tomorrow’s presidential election runoff between the ruling APC and the opposition SLPP, until the case is fully heard at the High Court today.
The High Court hearing was brought by a senior ruling APC party member and lawyer – Mr Ibrahim Sorie Koroma, whose application for an injunction, calls for the court to postpone tomorrow’s runoff election until a full investigation has been conducted into allegations of electoral fraud.
But according to yesterday’s statement by Julius Maada Bio – presidential candidate for the opposition SLPP, his party is quite satisfied with the arrangements made with NEC last week, to ensure the smooth running of the runoff tomorrow Tuesday, 27 March.
Rather than cry foul, the opposition SLPP is calling on the National Electoral Commission to go ahead with the election tomorrow. This is highly unprecedented in Sierra Leone’s electoral history, which is replete with instances of opposition parties complaining of ruling party electoral malpractice.
But as journalist Abu Shaw commented today, the ruling APC are only protesting because they appear to be losing: “Imagine if APC had won the elections outright in round one. You think APC would have questioned the integrity of the NEC and it’s Chairman. Never. Imagine the rampant electoral irregularities in round one, you think the corrupt APC would have raised the white flag and say “YES we won but since too much malpractices had been discovered, we will not accept the win. Never.
“It just shows the effective deception being shown by the power hungry APC to stop the run-off. All these brouhaha laws being bandied around by the APC campaign merchants to frustrate tomorrow’s polls are done for selfish gains only. Nothing to do with the true implementation of the constitution. Fact.
“As I always say, real democracy is non-existent. Fact. It died during the Great Greek city days. Fact. Irregularities in elections always happen worldwide. But that does not mean elections will not be conducted. Let the run-off go ahead as planned and those who have electoral complaints to make because of rigging claims can forward their grievances to NEC after the polls.
“But please let Sierra Leoneans go to the polls tomorrow. If APC believes they are loved and liked by the voters, they will surely win. No need to fear your dark shadows,” Abu Shaw commented.
Today, the ruling APC has issued a statement, calling on the National Electoral Commissioner to come clean. They are demanding an explanation of alleged discrepancy between the election data posted by NEC on their website and the actual data used by the Commissioner for the declaration of results.
This is what the ruling APC says:
“The ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) of Sierra Leone wishes to bring to attention of the general public that the Chairman and Chief Electoral Commissioner (CEC) of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Mr. Nfa Alie Conteh, is yet to provide the APC with an explanation over a grievous variance in two different sets of NEC Voter Registration data; disaggregated by polling centers.
“The APC on Friday 23rd March 2018, at a Data Management meeting summoned by NEC, brought out the startling fact that the list of registered voter counts per polling center, published for public consumption on the official NEC website, was at variance with another different list which the APC has now discovered is the list actually being used by Mr. Nfa Alie Conteh in undertaking his calculation of elections results.
“APC presented the facts to NEC in presence of main opposition SLPP as well as foreign diplomats and ambassadors from Britain, USA, EU and U.N. amongst others. The APC convincingly showed that the Voter Registration data which Mr. Conteh was using to make his calculations and decide on where over-voting took place, was markedly different from the Voter Registration data that had been published on the NEC website a few days prior to the elections.
“This meant that when Mr. Nfa Alie Conteh was calculating the 221 alleged over-voting centers, he was using data totally different from what he had sent to the rest of the world on his official website. The implications of this variance are huge. For example, this disparity casts suspicion on the process that could have led to such widespread numerical errors. It casts doubt on credibility of entire elections results as announced.
“Factually, many citizens and journalists around the world had downloaded the list from the NEC website showing 3,300 Polling Centers within which were shared the registered voters totaling 3,178,663 starting from 1,157 registered voters at Center ID 1001 in Kamakpodu, Constituency 001 of Kailahun District and ending in a final Center within Constituency 132 in Western Urban area.
“At the meeting on Friday were a number of journalists from major media houses like Star Media One, AYV Media Empire and Freetown TV; all invited by NEC to a special meeting called to discuss Data Management issues with APC and SLPP in presence of the international community and diplomatic corps. It had been billed as a meeting where NEC will provide answers to APC or SLPP concerns.
“However, NEC Chairman Mr. Nfa Alie Conteh and all his Directors present could not give any explanation for the worrying disparity neither could they explain how come two different Voter Registers existed; both lists had the exact same grand total of 3,178,663 but with individual polling centers listed therein, containing vastly different assigned number of voters for the same center.
“They could provide no answer to explain other than to acknowledge they had made mistakes along the line because according to them, “we had been in a rush”. No other real acceptable explanation was offered.
“Rather, the NEC Chairman N’fa Alie Conteh, appealed to the APC’s delegation who were presenting the revelations, to NOT make the disparity known to the public through the media but to instead give him and his staff “24 hours maximum” to investigate and revert back with his findings.
“This request was agreed to by the APC because the APC is willing to bend over backwards to ensure we work well with the NEC as the NEC carries out its mandate.
“However, it is now over 48 hours and approaching 72 hours since NEC promised to explain what caused two starkly different Voters Register to be in existence – but no explanation is as yet given and this SILENCE is against a backdrop of various developments going on.
“Thus, the APC has decided to bring the matter to the attention of the public alongside an image extract from the two variant tables containing lists of a sample of just the first seven Polling Centers. Out of the seven, there are five with a complete mis-match between the two lists. This type of mis-match is replicated throughout a comparison of the two variant lists.
“On the image, the first table is the one downloaded from the website and the bottom table is the one which Mr. Nfa Alie Conteh has now confessed is the one he/NEC is using to do calculations. Please compare them.
“The two-different voter counts on the two lists, speak for themselves. The burning questions include not only which list should Sierra Leoneans believe but also just how could such a grievous mistake happen?
“By bringing this very worrying information to the public domain, the APC hopes the publicity which ensues, will help in our country’s ongoing search for a credible, free, fair and transparent elections; something which has eluded us in this current electoral process to the extent of private citizens instituting lawsuits against the NEC and its Chairman.
“We also wish to inform that, to our greatest dismay, when we visited the NEC website this evening of Sunday 25th March 2018, the uploaded variant Voter Register data table per polling center, had been yanked off the website. It had been there shown live online on Friday 23rd March 2018.
“The intent is to remove the incriminating evidence. However, like many other persons around the world including journalists, the APC Team had downloaded and safely stored the now-removed Voter Register data. It is safe and sound.
“However, there are growing integrity concerns over the SILENCE with no explanation over the variance despite the 24 hours deadline, being concomitant with the abrupt removal from the NEC website of the variant Voter Register data.
“As we prepare for the Second Rounds (run-offs) of the presidential elections, the APC hopes that NEC and its Chairman, Mr. Nfa Alie Conteh, will be able to provide answers and assurances over these issues and many other concerns of citizens whilst allaying all fears and rebuilding citizens’ confidence amidst a growing lack of trust for its operations.
“To conclude, the All Peoples Congress (APC) iterates its willingness to continue to fully cooperate with NEC if NEC can ameliorate various of our concerns.”
While the people of Sierra Leone await today’s High Court ruling, the hope now is for a postponement of the runoff to be ordered by the court, so as to allow comprehensive investigation of the integrity of the electoral systems and a manual recount of the entire first round votes. The conclusion of this process must inform the decision as to whether to have fresh elections or proceed with the runoff. at some future date
One thing is clear though. No matter the outcome of this process and legal argument, the credibility of NEC and its leadership has been irreparably damaged.