Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 October 2017
Sierra Leoneans go to the polls on 7th of March 2017 to elect a new president, and many are hoping for a new party and government to replace the ruling APC, after ten years in power. Party conventions are almost over, and so too is the debate as to who the presidential candidates are for 2018.
But the cross-party political temperature and banter are now beginning to get hotter by the day, as party presidential candidates, their campaign teams and supporters go on the offensive, using social media, television and radio programmes, as well as good old fashioned public rallies – all so far in good spirit.
But will it remain good-natured, and for how long; especially as questions continue to be asked about the academic qualification of the ruling APC presidential candidate – Samura Kamara, whose claim to being a PhD holder is being hotly contested by the opposition. (Photo: Samura Kamara).
He is accused of faking his PhD, after failing to present evidence of his qualifications at the public appointments parliamentary committee hearing a few years ago.
Samura’s poor performance record as minister of finance and head of the country’s central bank is also now the subject of big political debate in advance of the elections.
Similarly, the heat is being turned up by ruling party supporters and media handlers who are going for the jugular of the opposition SLPP presidential candidate – Julius Maada Bio, questioning his ‘Retired Brigadier’ military title, as well as the fact that he has been banned from entering the United States for crimes committed in the US many years ago. (Photo: Maada Bio).
Who says politics in Sierra Leone is boring.
But amid the hot debates and political banter, there are serious political issues that are of concern to civil society groups in the country, and yesterday Mr Andrew Lavali – the Executive Director of the Institute for Governance Reform (IGR), wrote a sobering letter to the Chairman of the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC). This is what he said:
Dear Justice Patrick Hamilton,
RE: OBSERVATION/CONCERNS FROM THE ELECTORAL ENVIRONMENT
In furtherance of our work to contribute to free, fair and credible elections, the Institute for Governance Reform (IGR) has been following recent election build-ups including party conventions, lower level elections and ensuing activities.
We recognize the pivotal role of the Political Parties Registration Commission in regulating the conduct of political parties and wish to commend your office for the outstanding commitment demonstrated thus far in preparation for the March 2018 elections, particularly since your appointment six months ago.
We note that as part of the favourable climate thus encouraged, Sierra Leone is currently enjoying unprecedented high-quality debates among party actors, that if sustained, augurs well for Sierra Leone’s democracy.
We are further pleased to observe that outside of a few incidences of violence in Freetown and Magburaka, political interactions within and between parties in the last four weeks have largely been peaceful, and the Sierra Leone police have exhibited high levels of professionalism in their coverage of party conventions between the two big political parties in the country, and in ensuring that all parties are free to express their points of view.
Sir, notwithstanding the gains we are seeing in the quality of our democracy, there are challenges which, if not addressed before the official campaign period is declared, we fear may affect the peaceful conduct of elections and frustrate the consolidation of the rule of law.
While some of these activities appear to contravene existing laws, we believe that others while lawful, might nevertheless send mixed signals to the electorate. It is in light of these observations that we are writing this public letter, to seek your commission’s advice and decision as the regulatory authority of political party conduct.
Moreover, we believe that your response would be extremely instructive to the civic education program for the up-coming elections.
There are three main issues that we would like to bring to your attention:
- We note that a number of public officials were elected/selected for party positions in recent primaries. These individuals are now defending political party positions on radio, television and social media. We believe that such actions contravene Section 15 of the PPRC Act of 2002: which stipulates that a person who is a public officer shall not be eligible to hold office in a political party; speak in public or publish anything on matters of political party controversy; or engage in canvassing in support of a political party or a candidate standing for a general election.
We are particularly concerned that fusion of control of state resources and party interest might give rise to the use of public resources for political campaigns for particular candidates or parties and disadvantage others. We hope that PPRC can review the lists of newly elected party officials and advise affected parties on corrective actions.
2. We have observed that the image of the president is currently being used on campaign posters and billboards, although he is not running for office. Noting that section 40 (2) of our Constitution describes His Excellency the President as the symbol of national unity, we believe that the appropriation of his image by one party undermines that vision.
Although the president has a right to support his candidate of choice, we believe that PPRC can ensure that there are clear regulations on the level of support, protection and resources State House can and should provide to any candidate competing for public office.
3. We have seen the involvement of traditional rulers in political party activities. While noting that the 2009 Chieftaincy Act is silent on the neutrality of chiefs in public election, the 2013 Code of Ethics and Service Standards for Chiefs (of which all chiefs are signatory), explicitly states that chiefs should be neutral in party activities.
Neutrality of Chiefs is important because they are the principal source of justice for many voters, particularly in rural areas where they mediate local disputes or refer cases to police or the courts.
The majority of chiefs contacted in our monitoring are well aware of the likelihood of conflicts increasing between supporters of different parties, as election-time draws near, and believe that where chiefs openly side with one party, it will be difficult to ensure their neutrality in mediating such cases.
We recommend that the PPRC work with the Human Rights Commission and the National Council of Paramount Chiefs to address the potential threat to political expression at community level, especially for marginalized groups.
Mr Commissioner, we understand that legal regimes governing political behaviour and accountability do not sufficiently capture all potential issues that can prevent a level playing field in competitive party politics.
We believe that calling attention to possible contraventions of the PPRC Act and the Sierra Leone Constitution and other activities that are not covered will help reduce the abuse of our laws. As the preeminent institution charged with regulating political parties, we believe that PPRC is best placed to educate both the parties and the public on what is acceptable and what is not in order to ensure a level playing field for all candidates, and contribute to the consolidation of democracy in Sierra Leone.
Please be assured of our highest support in the good work that you are doing.
Andrew Lavali Executive Director
CC: The Chair, National Electoral Commission; The Inspector General, Sierra Leone Police; Human Rights Commission ; The Establishment Secretary, Government of Sierra Leone; Political Parties ; Standing Together for Democracy Consortium; Civil society ; The Press