Sierra Leone Telegraph: 15 February 2017
President Koroma has finally yielded to strong demands from civil society groups and the media for the 2018 elections date to be announced.
It is not clear as to why the president, who is not known for good decision making, has dithered and wasted time in making the announcement.
Critics say that by pushing back the constitutional deadline for the announcement, president Koroma had created unnecessary political tension and uncertainty in the country.
But what is now certainly clear, according to the president’s national radio broadcast is that local, constituency and presidential elections will all be held on the 7th of March 2018.
Constitutional lawyers say that this date is outside the mandated period set by the country’s constitution, which stipulates that presidential election must be held not later than three months after the end of the five-year term of the president.
President Koroma was sworn in on 23 November 2012, and his mandated term limit expires on the 23rd of February 2018. But presidential spokesman – Abdulai Bayraytay told reporters that the president’s announcement meets with the constitutional mandate.
It is highly unlikely that anyone will be mounting a legal challenge to prove the president wrong, which makes the argument about the deadline envelope somewhat academic.
According to president Koroma, the voter registration will now commence swiftly to ensure that everyone has the chance to cast their vote next year.
In 2011 the Sierra Leone National Electoral Commission (NEC) purchased 800 biometric machines worth a total of US$18.6 million, which were used at the 2012 elections.
But few weeks ago, the National Electoral Commission replaced most of the machines with new ones, claiming that they were faulty.
The new technology will ease some of the registration problems NEC faces, such as securing voter databases, said NEC information officer Albert Massaquoi in 2011.
“It will also make it easier and faster for NEC to replace voter’s cards for anyone who loses his or her own,” he told local journalists. “The new system will also discourage registration duplications or fraud. Your personal data will be kept in the system and you will not be able to register twice.”
Critics had since argued that the biometric system could fail, while others say they expect the modern technology to reduce or stop underage voting and reduce the percentage of invalid votes nationwide.
In his broadcast to the nation this morning, president Koroma made it clear that today’s announcement does not mark the beginning of election campaigning.
He said that the NEC will in due time be announcing a date for the start of campaigning, and called upon every citizen to help promote democracy in the country, by ensuring that campaigning and voting are free of violence and intimidation.
Both the ruling APC and the main opposition SLPP are now set to hold their respective national conference in the next few months, where they are expected to elect their presidential candidate.
It will be a tough fight in both camps. But the ruling APC is much more adept at stage managing its presidential candidate election than the opposition SLPP, whose passion for transparency and openness sometimes comes at a price.
After years of chaos and infighting, the opposition SLPP is finally at peace with itself and its executives and stakeholders are now planning to take the battle for the country’s parliament and State House to the ruling APC party.
There are at least twelve candidates vying for the presidential candidacy of the SLPP, with Julius Maada Bio, Alie Kabba, Kandeh Yumkella, John Benjamin, Alpha Timbo, Jonathan Tengbe, Munda Rogers, and Andrew Keili as the main contestants.
The ruling APC has a tough mountain to climb in electing its presidential candidate in August this year. The field is widely open to Joseph Kamara – the attorney general, John Sisay – the former chief executive of Sierra Rutile Ltd., Alpha Kanu – the former information minister, Minkailu Mansaray – the minister of mines.
Other candidates vying for the APC presidential candidacy are the Ambassador to China – Alimamy P. Koroma, VP Bockarie Foh, Dr. Zainab Bangura, Dr. Kaifala Marah, Lawyer Mohamed Kalokoh, Dr. Joseph Sam Sesay, and Ibrahim Bundu (younger brother of SLPP veteran Dr, Abass Bundu).
You can listen to president Koroma’s radio broadcast here:
Read the transcript here:
“Fellow Sierra Leoneans, on 10th November 2011, I caused my office to announce the dates for the 2012 Local Council and Parliamentary elections; it was little over a year to those elections.
Today, as envisioned by our Constitution, and in line with established practice, I have again instructed my office to put forth a public notice announcing that parliamentary and local council elections will be held a little over one year from now, on March 7th, 2018.
Having consulted with me, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) will also announce that the presidential elections shall take place on the same date. With my Government’s support, NEC and the National Registration Commission have further indicated their readiness to commence registration for electoral and related activities.
My Government is also in the concluding phase of a White Paper for a new constitution. As provided by law, this will be tabled in Parliament in due course. If enacted by Parliament and in line with ECOWAS protocols on democracy, a referendum on the new constitution will take place before the end of September this year.
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, our country is building a democracy. We have held regular elections since 1996. During every one of our four general elections since that year, we have moved forward to take charge of our destiny, strengthen our democratic agencies and create greater awareness on the relevance of participation for everybody, in every town, in every district and every region of our country.
Today, I call on all Sierra Leoneans to continue to support this strengthening of our democracy. And no better way exists to render this support than in ensuring that we all register, that we all show discipline and civility, that we obey the rules and regulations set forth for the conduct of free and fair elections.
Registration is the first step to making sure that your preferences are accurately reflected in the new constitution, and that the new government enjoys your mandate.
Democratic discipline requires the awareness that if you belong to a party, that party is bigger than you. The place of political parties in our constitution is sacrosanct; no member of a political party is above the rules and regulations of his or her party; but no political party is above the laws of our country.
As President, I am under oath to maintain law and order, peace, security, and the democratic character of the Republic of Sierra Leone. And I will use all the powers vested in my office to continue to ensure peace, security, law and order during the electoral cycle.
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, announcement of the dates for elections is not an announcement for the start of the campaign period. The commencement of the campaign period will be announced by NEC. When that time comes, we expect every party and every individual to follow the rules and regulations set forth by the appropriate authorities.
Political activity is no excuse for breaking the law. My government is determined to ensure peaceful and orderly elections; and anyone caught disturbing the peace or violating the laws in the name of campaigning or other political activities will meet the full force of the law.
We applaud our international friends for their continued support to the consolidation of our democracy. Elections are a tedious process; they require patience, tenacity and understanding of a country’s social and political complexities. We have demonstrated our commitment to free and fair elections; and we will not yield to electoral models and practices that would be vulnerable to hacking, manipulation and other negative external influences.
Elections are an expensive enterprise and the fact we are conducting a national registration, referendum, local council, parliamentary and presidential elections requires substantial resources.
My government has already committed billions of Leones to the exercise and we are engaging our international partners to support us fill some of the funding gaps and capacity needs we have identified in the elections process.
These engagements are critical to the overall success of the elections. That is why we are insisting that these partnerships must render elections that are free, fair, credible and reflective of the will of the Sierra Leonean people.
I strongly believe that Sierra Leone will once again deliver free, fair and credible elections.
Though we still face challenges, our democracy is growing stronger; our resolve to build on our democratic gains remains unshakable; and together, men and women of goodwill in all parties, both within and outside the country, young and old, in the executive, parliament and the judiciary, in every profession and field of endeavor, together, this country will continue to be a beacon of unity of purpose, freedom, justice and democracy.”