Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 November 2012
Over two million people turned out to vote last Saturday, 17 November, in Sierra Leone’s third election since the declaration of peace, after a long and brutal civil war, which took the lives of over 50,000 civilians, leaving hundreds of thousands with mental and physical scars.
The peace-building process has been costly, long and tortuous, with the international community investing hundreds of millions of dollars. The democratisation of Sierra Leone has played a key role in empowering communities and consolidating the peace.
Will the outcome of last Saturday’s elections, continue to cement the peace in Sierra Leone or will the country remain as divided as it was prior to the war?
Elections held in 2007, saw the present government of Ernest Koroma awarded victory, despite accusations of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), itself engaging in serious and unlawful acts of nullifying the ballots of 477 polling stations in the heartlands of the country’s main opposition SLPP.
Ironically, the NEC also went on to destroy all ballot papers cast at the 2007 elections, despite being classed as official records, which according to law must have been kept for at least ten years.
This prompted suspicions that the NEC had got rid of the evidence, which may have assisted in the possible call for a re-count by the opposition.
Five years on, the very same Chairman of the NEC – Christiana Thorpe, who had received a massive pay rise from president Koroma a few months ago, is now being accused of presiding over massive vote rigging and other electoral irregularities across the capital Freetown, Kono and northern districts – the president’s power-base.
Provisional results published so far by the country’s media, suggest a huge landslide for the government. But the main opposition SLPP are already calling for an investigation.
In 2007, the outgoing president Tejan Kabbah, was accused by many of imposing his will on the SLPP leadership to accept the outcome of the 2007 election results, despite allegations of serious electoral malpractice.
Today tells a rather different story. Senior officials of the opposition SLPP party, say that they will not accept the results, given the level of vote rigging and other irregularities that were witnessed and have been partly confirmed by the NEC itself.
With just over 50% of all votes cast published, the provisional results are looking quite ominous for the opposition SLPP.
“On behalf of myself and the National Executive of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), I wish to express my deepest gratitude and thanks to the entire membership of the Party for the tireless and unrelenting effort during this electoral process.
“Provisional Results of the election started coming in since last night and have been broadcast by the Independent Radio Network (IRN). The results reported by the IRN came on from various polling stations across the country and so far they do not reflect any pattern that may give an indication of who is winning or losing.
“I wish to emphasise, as the IRN itself has repeatedly said, that the results are purely provisional.
“Although the National Electoral Commission (NEC) has the official mandate to announce the final results, the Party has set up its own mechanisms to monitor, collate and eventually report the results of the elections to its membership in the Chairman of the national Electoral Commission (NEC), Madam Christian (sic) Thorpe in her latest statement to the Press, admitted the disruption of polling in some parts of the Western Area.
“She mentioned only three wards in Freetown, namely wards 362,292 and 394. Her statement also mentioned the disruption of polling due to election malpractices.
“In addition to the discrepancies identified by the NEC Chair and the National Elections watch (NEW), it has come to the attentions of the Party that the factors that have affected the polling in Freetown are more widespread and a lot more serious than has been reported by the NEC.
“We have ample evidence and vital information to substantiate a number of incidents bothering on irregularities that violate the Electoral Code and which has the potential to affect the final outcome of these elections.
“There are evidence of blatant ballot stuffing in several centres, especially in the Northern Region, Kono and Freetown with full complicity of NEC staff in most of these cases, at the time of counting the ballots, security officers at the polling station drove our agents and prevented them from observing the process and collating results.
“Evidently, most of the results announced do not reflect actual votes cast. There are videos of the NEC staff ensuring that voters cast their ballots for Ernest Koroma. This act was also widespread in the Northern Province.
“Meanwhile, I wish to appeal to all our supporters to remain calm and to have the confidence in the Party Executive, its machinery and my humble self that we will leave no stone unturned, I repeat no one steals the mandate of our voters or alter the results to our disadvantage.
“As things stand now, we are very confident of winning the elections.
“Finally, to members of the International Community who have been co-sponsors of these elections, we express our profound appreciation for your continuing support.
“We trust that you will continue to be supportive of our efforts as a country to ensure that the will of the people prevail and the outcome of the poll reflect that will.”
A total of 112 parliamentary seats and 456 local council wards are up for grabs.
But the most precious ballot is that of the presidency, which requires a 55% majority; otherwise there will be another round of voting no later than 8 December 2012.
Both the ruling APC party and the main opposition SLPP, are confident of winning the concluded first round polling. But the prognosis for a satisfactory result, does not look too good.
The international election observers and local election watch organisations, will need to intervene to ensure an independent and credible investigation into all allegations of malpractice, is quickly and thoroughly implemented.
Sierra Leone cannot afford a breakdown in law and order, nor does it need to see the return of political violence and chaos, which could seriously destabilise the country and unravel the economic and social progress that have been achieved, since the end of the war in 2001.