Sierra Leone Telegraph: 17 December 2022:
Sierra Leone’s Electoral Commission’s preparation for the forthcoming presidential, general and local elections which are due in June 2023 is seriously flawed, and there are calls for transparent disclosure of all disaggregated voter registration data, as well as an independent audit of the registration process. (Photo above: APC held press conference requesting ECSL disclosure of the disaggregated voter registration data).
The country’s main opposition All Peoples Congress Party (APC) has gone further and is calling on the president to abandon his plans to change the electoral system – just six months to election, from the existing constituency based – first past the post, to a district block proportional representation voting system.
Speaking after a press conference held yesterday at the APC party office in Freetown, Freetown’s Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr said: “Today the All Peoples Congress (APC) held a press conference requesting ECSL’s disclosure of the disaggregated voter registration data, an audit of the registration process and a cancellation of the proposed proportional representation electoral system.
“As one of the speakers, I reiterated my concerns about the relatively low level of new registrants in Freetown, the voter registration numbers for Freetown in relation to the 2021 census figures and the proposed calculation of seats for Freetown City Council using the 2021 census figures. I once again called for ECSL to build trust by ensuring transparency in their processes.”
Writing in a press statement published yesterday, the Secretary of the Party’s Interim Transition Governance Committee (ITGC) – Abdu Kargbo, said this:
“The public would recall that the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL), conducted what it called a ‘Voter Verification/Registration’ for the 2023 multitier elections. The registration exercise, which was conducted from 3rd September to 4th October 2022, (extended by two days) was meant for citizens who had already registered and voted in previous elections to confirm their biometrics, review their personal information, and make corrections or inclusions where necessary. At the same time, it was also to register those who had not been registered previously.
“From 24th to 28th November 2022, the ECSL also purportedly conducted a 5- day Exhibition / Verification exercise of the Provisional List of Voters. The APC, through its agents deployed across the country, observed these processes in the field and believe that both the Voter Verification / Registration and the subsequent Exhibition / Verification exercises were exceedingly problematic.
“In our opinion, both exercises faced self-induced challenges and were deliberately designed and employed to create an unlevel playing field to disenfranchise a certain section of the electorate at the expense of our party.
“With regards to the Voter Verification/Registration, it has become evident the data for thousands of citizens who had registered in previous election cycle was either incomplete, incorrect or missing from the register. In many of these instances, citizens were not allowed to do the necessary corrections or create a fresh registration. Instead, citizens were inappropriately referred to the National Civil Registration Authority (NCRA) whose mandate does not include voter registration.
“In respect of ‘First Time Voters’, the ECSL violated its own rules and constitutional provisions on the eligibility / identification criteria for such. Part IV of Public Elections Section 24 stipulates that citizens are eligible to register either with (a) a birth certificate or a naturalisation certificate; (b) a statutory declaration giving particulars of his birth; (c) the testimony of a member of the local Council in the area of his residence; (d) National Identification Number; or (e) any other satisfactory evidence of his entitlement to be registered as voter.
“These provisions were ignored, and in addition, where the ECSL did not allow first time voters to register, they failed to issue rejection forms to these citizens. Additionally, the Exhibition / Verification exercise purportedly concluded on Monday 28th November, has exposed what appears to be an electoral strategy to skew the outcome of the June 2023 polls.
“Once again, thousands of people who reported to the designated Exhibition / Verification centres found out that the ECSL retained incomplete and incorrect data. Thousands of photos were absent along with names, addresses and other details being inaccurate. In these cases, correction to inclusion forms were not issued out to affected persons as mandated by law. The ECSL deleted by district, 607 registrants determined to be underage.
“ECSL also deleted, without reference to districts, two hundred and fifty thousand, one hundred and twenty-three (257,123) registrants (approximately 7% of total registrants), who they stated were duplicate voters.
“An ECSL press release dated 30th November 2022 states “The Commission acknowledges concerns from registered voters relating to the omission of some names from the Provisional List of Voters, photo-less registration details and incomplete data in some centres….The ECSL is closely working with the National Civil Registration Authority (NCRA) to resolve this issue.”
“The lack of transparency, openness, inclusiveness, of ECSL in its operations has considerably tarnished the integrity of both the voter registration processes and thus we believe has compromised the Provisional List of Voters.
“Moreover, the numerous challenges the public encountered during the Registration and Verification exercises and the ECSL’s unresponsiveness to stakeholders’ concerns and the failure to address these, has substantially undermined public trust in the entire electoral process.
“We believe that these setbacks could result in significant voter apathy. The APC is justifiably concerned that such public mistrust engendered by ECSL and their inability and failure to conduct free, peaceful, smooth and credible Voter Registration and Verification processes represent a slur on, and shameful reversal of our nation’s hard-won democracy.
“The performance of ECSL and their persistent disregard for the Law so far holds the potential for very chaotic elections which is a serious threat to the peace and security of the country. Unfortunately, all concerns raised and reported by the APC to the Elections Management Bodies (EMBs) and ECSL regarding the same, have not yielded results.
“In view of ECSL’s current performance and posture, the APC is constrained to state that ECSL as currently constituted, staffed and manned, lacks the competence and trust to conduct free, peaceful and credible elections.
“Therefore, for the attention of the Government of Sierra Leone, EMBs, Civil Society, the public, the Development Partners and the Diplomatic and Consular Corp, the Economic Community of West African States, and the African Union, AS REQUIRED BY LAW, THE APC HEREBY DEMANDS THE IMMEDIATE DISCLOSURE OF THE DISAGGREGATED VOTER REGISTRATION DATA (PROVSIONAL LIST OF VOTERS) AND AN INDEPENDENT AUDIT OF THE VOTER REGISTRATION PROCESS.
“It will be recalled that Proportional Representation, is a product of its time. It is a fall-back position: when there are no constituencies or wards for the purposes of public elections in the country. This was the rationale and the prevailing circumstances that warranted and justified the amendment introduced in 2001 as now contained in section 38A of the Constitution.
“The country then, had just come through a brutal and destabilising rebel war foisted on the country which resulted in the destabilisation of communities nationwide, apart from the loss of human lives and destruction of property.
“An immediate effect of such a situation was the absence of settled communities and constituencies, Hence, the justification for the introduction of the Proportional Representation System. It was then seen as a contingency provision and not intended to be a regular format for public or general elections for Parliament.”