Sierra Leone Telegraph: 22 February 2017
Last Saturday’s by-election in constituency 066 in the district of Tonkolili, which was won by the ruling APC party, has been described by the opposition SLPP as unfair and violent, with plenty of evidence of electoral malpractice.
With general and presidential elections due in just over a year, trust and confidence in the government’s commitment to ensure a free and fair elections is being questioned.
In 2007 the ruling APC was accused of massive vote rigging which took them to State House, after the electoral commission nullified hundreds of thousands of votes in the opposition SLPP stronghold. And in 2012 there was plenty of evidence of electoral malpractice. The ruling APC was also accused of the blatant abuse of its power of incumbency and buying of votes.
If the behaviour of the ruling APC at last week’s by-election in Tonkolili is sign of things to come, then it seems the opposition parties will be wasting their time turning up at the presidential and general elections in 2018.
But it seems this is precisely what the ruling APC is hoping would happen, so as to be declared unopposed and to remain in power for another five years.
Yesterday, 21st February 2017, the opposition SLPP published a statement, calling on the international community to take note of its concerns regarding the bad behaviour of the ruling APC at last Saturday’s by-election in Tonkolili. This is what they said:
The Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) wishes to bring to the attention of the general public and the international community the following information regarding the behaviour of the All Peoples Congress (APC) in the Parliamentary bye election in Constituency 066 in Tonkolili District held on Saturday, 18th February 2017.
The seat fell vacant as a result of the death on Hon. Dr. Taworo Tara-Koroma, former Member of Parliament representing the APC. Only two political parties contested the bye election: the ruling APC and the Opposition SLPP.
The National Electoral Commission (NEC), on the 19th instant, declared the election results as follows: APC candidate, Rosemarie Bangura elected with 7,393 votes representing 61% of valid votes as against the SLPP candidate, Alhaji Musa B. Jalloh (aka Musa Bendugu), who polled 4,678 votes representing 39% of valid votes compared to 8% in 2012 marking an increase of support for the SLPP in that constituency.
The SLPP nevertheless considers it to be most vital that in the supreme interest of promoting, preserving and deepening democracy in Sierra Leone, the following information should be placed in the public domain, particularly the international community, more particularly the ugly and unacceptable developments that characterised the poll in Ward 226 in the Kafe Simira Chiefdom.
Not only do such unsavoury developments mar the credibility of the election results, they have the propensity to stunt the growth of the democratic process in our country. They also sow seeds of potential disaster which, if allowed to germinate now, could have far-reaching consequences in reversing and setting at nought all the democratic gains the country has made since the restoration of genuine democracy in 1996.
This therefore should and must not be allowed to happen especially in the wake of the most gruesome and destructive civil war ever in the history of our country.
We consider as most unacceptable and intolerable the following political activities that took place during the bye election in Constituency 066:
(i) The NEC correctly allotted the days for each political party to campaign. It did this deliberately to avoid or minimise the risks of supporters of the contending parties clashing and thereby disturbing the peace of the citizenry or provoking a breach of the peace of the constituency.
The days were allotted by ballot. The SLPP chose the even days and the APC the odd days beginning from the start of the official campaign on 31st January through to the end of the campaign on 16th February 2017.
Whereas the SLPP fully complied with this arrangement, the APC failed woefully to honour its commitment. They campaigned not only on the odd days allotted to them, they willfully, persistently and with impunity interfered and encroached on the even days given to the SLPP resulting in violent clashes in various parts of the constituency.
(ii) The APC, through Dr. Minkailu Bah, who combines as Minister of Education and APC Chairman in Tonkolili District, and Dr. Kelfalla Marah, current Governor of the Central Bank of Sierra Leone (Photo), spent the entire period of the campaign in the constituency undisguised dishing out billions of state funds buying votes from voters with utter reckless abandon.
They even offered the SLPP candidate hundreds of millions of Leones in bribes for him to step down coupled with promises to send some of his children overseas. The SLPP candidate refused to accept their offers.
(iii) Dr. Minkailu Bah unilaterally declared public holidays for school going children on their campaign days forcing them to come out and rally in support of the APC candidate.
(iv) Dr. Minkailu Bah promised salary pin codes to undocumented teachers in the constituency if they agreed to support the APC candidate.
(v) The APC coerced the three Paramount Chiefs of Kafe Simira (Mabonto), Kalansongoaia (Bumbuna) and Samaia Bendugu, whose chiefdoms comprise the constituency, into threatening and intimidating the SLPP candidate to no end.
They further intimidated their sub-chiefs into supporting the APC candidate, threatening to remove them from office if they allowed their subjects to vote for the SLPP candidate. The APC went even further and employed the services of Paramount Chief Magba Koroma of Diang Chiefdom in Koinadugu District to enter the constituency for the same purpose.
(vi) The APC forced the Tonkolili District NEC office to employ their party functionaries as presiding officers for the purpose of rigging the bye election. Such APC functionaries included Sallu Kargbo, APC Chairman of Constituency 066, Sheku Toronka, Abel Kamara and Alhassan Sankoh, to name just a few.
(vii) On 18th February, polling day itself, almost the entire APC Cabinet descended upon Constituency 066. The presence of Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Senior Civil Servants was so visible everywhere, buying votes and intimidating voters. (Photo: Vice president Victor Foh was out campaigning at the by-election).
Government vehicles were also seen everywhere plying the roads of the constituency with their number plates removed or covered up in order to avoid identification; all this in the full glare of the Police who seemed powerless to prevent or stop it.
(viii) On 18th February, polling day, the SLPP Regional Vice-Chairman, North, Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu, was brazenly and violently ambushed and attacked in Bumbuna whilst he was carrying out his legitimate function of monitoring and observing the poll on behalf of his Party.
A group of APC hacks and thugs in three different vehicles, led by one Conteh, reputedly the Chairman of the Motor Drivers Union in Bumbuna, in the company of Hon. Hassan Sesay (aka Hassan Priest) continuously followed Dr. Bundu’s Land Rover everywhere he went within Bumbuna township, especially between the 14 polling stations at the Bumbuna Court Barray and the 7 polling stations at Kathombo Polling Centre.
At a point near the Bumbuna Court Barray, Dr. Bundu was violently attacked. One of the thugs attempted to stab him in the back with a dagger but was prevented from reaching him by Fatmata Sawaneh, SLPP Deputy National Women’s Leader, who arrived at the scene just in time.
Whilst Fatmata was wrestling with this APC thug, another thug lit a match and attempted to put it under the petrol tank of Dr. Bundu’s Land Rover after openly declaring that he was going to burn the vehicle with Dr. Bundu in it. Again this incident was thwarted just in time by another SLPP member, Mariama, who was travelling with Madam Sawaneh.
Three APC thugs then pounced upon Mariama brutally beating her mercilessly, wounding her and leaving her in a gutter unconscious for several hours. She was hospitalised and treated in Bumbuna before being transferred to Freetown for further medical treatment. The APC thugs made away with her mobile phone and purse containing money and many other possessions.
(ix) Ballot stuffing and ballot rigging were most rampant in no fewer than 30 polling stations in Ward 226 in the Kafe Simira Chiefdom (Mabonto), the home chiefdom of the APC candidate, and the results there provide ample evidence of this.
For example, where the APC candidate scored 140 votes, only a single vote was recorded for the SLPP candidate; in the Court Barray at Kawunkulu, while 198 votes were recorded for the APC candidates only 2 votes were given to the SLPP candidate; at the SDA Primary School in Simiria Village, 149 votes were recorded for the APC candidate and only 4 votes for the SLPP candidate; and the list of ballot stuffing goes on and on as if no SLPP party executives exist in Ward 226.
If these electoral malpractices are not to be condemned, then what is? Let no one be under any illusion.
If the electoral malpractices perpetrated by the APC in the bye election in Constituency 066 were meant to induce a foretaste of what the general elections in 2018 might portend, let them be forewarned now that, unlike 2012, nothing short of a free, fair, transparent and credible presidential and parliamentary election will be acceptable to the SLPP in 2018 and the consequences of any electoral malpractice would simply be too grave for anyone to even contemplate. (End of SLPP statement).