Sierra Leone Telegraph: 22 November 2012:
When news broke in the early hours of yesterday Wednesday, that the Chairman of Sierra Leone’s Electoral Commission will be hosting a press briefing, there was high octane media excitement, as the nation held its breath with heightened expectations.
Millions of voters glued to their radio and TV sets, waiting to hear Christiana Thorpe declaring at least some, if not all of the elections results, just as she did in 2007. But they were disappointed.
Instead, she took the opportunity to rebuff and set aside many of the allegations made by the opposition, as she gave a brief summary of progress in counting at various districts across the country.
Although the NEC has until the 27 November, 2012, to declare the results of the presidential, parliamentary and local elections, which took place last Saturday, all eyes are now on the Electoral Commissioner, as she contemplates how best to address the myriad of allegations of voting irregularities and fraud.
Would she continue to pander to pressure from the ruling party’s call for her to ignore the very serious allegations being made by the country’s opposition parties, or would she allow fairness and justice to rule her head?
The ruling APC party has been accused by the opposition of massive rigging of the votes, especially in the capital Freetown, the eastern town of Kono, and the president’s northern districts of Bombali, Port Loko, Koinadugu, and Tonkolili.
It is estimated by some observers that up to 20% of the total votes cast last Saturday are questionable. The president needs at least 55% of the votes to win an outright victory.
In order to obtain this, president Koroma would have to garner at least 65% of the votes in his northern province, 50% in the capital Freetown and 50% in the south and east of the country.
But not certain of meeting those huge targets in the south and east of the country, the ruling APC party has been accused of resorting to foul play in the northern polling stations and Freetown, in order to make up for the shortfall.
The APC party is said to have collected more than 90% of the votes in both the capital Freetown and the northern provincial towns, by rigging the votes, which analysts say is greater than the total number of registered voters in those constituencies.
At yesterday’s news conference in Freetown, the Electoral Commissioner admitted that 10% of the votes that have been counted so far, have been quarantined, which are likely to be nullified.
But critics say that she has not gone far enough.
This is what the NEC told the people of Sierra Leone and the international community yesterday:
“Response To Concerns From PMDC and SLPP. The Commission received concerns from both the Peoples Movement of Democratic Change (PMDC) and the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) pertaining to the conduct of elections and performance of NEC staff and other security personnel on polling day.
“The Commission will like to point out the following:
“Missing Final Voter Register in several polling stations in Bombali and Koinadugu
Bombali. We are aware that voter register for one centre was misplaced but was later found in another centre within the same ward.
“Koinadugu – the election procedure allows for the generation of the register based on the presentation of a voter ID where the original register was not available on polling day. This was what occurred in Koinadugu and in any other area where it was found necessary to do so.
“Interference by certain NEC officials in voters’ choice selection. We would like the political parties to provide any evidence in their possession to the police.
“Ballot Stuffing and Intimidation, etc. NEC has not announced the results of any individual constituency or centre therein. We can therefore not comment on the allegations regarding this issue.
“We have no reports of NEC official being put under gun point. Any evidence of this should be provided to the police.
“NEC cannot comment on the supply of electricity to polling station save to say that polling kits include alternative source of light.
“Cassel Farm: We will ask that more specific information be given to the police.
“St. Edwards Secondary School – we have received no report of any NEC official being arrested for any such incident. Further NEC cannot comment on whether there was a curfew in the area as it is outside its mandate.
“Refusal by NEC Officials to give out party Agents RRFs. There was a shortage of original RRFs in some parts of the country which affected all parties. However NEC officials used observer copies which were posted outside the centres.
“Evidence of Unsigned or unstamped RRFs. In relation to this issue NEC observed this lapse, and where it occurred investigations have been carried out to verify the results. It is important to understand that all who voted must have their votes counted and no one should feel disenfranchised.
“NEC officials directing voters to vote Ernest Koroma. In response to this matter, we advise that this information be given to the police.
“RRFs not signed. Any information relating to RRF not signed should be referred to the police and please keep NEC informed. NEC is surprised to learn that party agents could sign blank RRFs thereby colluding in wrong doing.
“People without Voter IDs and not on the voter register allowed to vote. This is a matter for the police and they should be provided with the necessary evidence.
“64 Ballot boxes quarantined. We do not have a system wherein ballot boxes are quarantined. Generally tampered envelopes are quarantined pending investigations. We request that any evidence of irregularity at Buxton School and elsewhere be reported to the police.
“Update on election results tallying at regional tally centres. The Commission hereby wishes to inform the general public that 99% of all polling stations results have now being received at the Regional Tally Centres in Kenema, Makeni, Bo and Freetown.
“Out of the 9,493 polling stations, 90% of (8,544) polling station results have been processed.
“The Remaining 10% of polling station results has been quarantined and may require opening of affected ballot boxes and recount of the ballot papers.
“The Commission strongly condemns the use of copies of the Final Voters Register (FVR) by political party agents on polling day to undertake parallel voter verification.
“The Commission distributed the FVR to the political parties for their internal use and not to undertake any parallel identification or verification of voters, thereby obstructing the electoral process and infringing of the privacy of voters.
The NEC’s present strategy of drip feeding the nation with incomplete and rather confusing statistics, itself does not engender confidence, until the full and official results are announced by the Commissioner, by next Tuesday, 27 November.
Until then, speculations, accusations and recriminations will continue, while political tension mounts.