Sierra Leone’s opposition parties call for review of Electoral Commission’s fitness to conduct elections

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 October 2021:

A group of political parties representing almost all of the opposition parties in Sierra Leone, known as the Consortium of Progressive Political Parties (COPPP), last Thursday 14th October, published a statement questioning the independence and impartiality of the country’s electoral commission as condemnation grows, after the controversial declaration of the winners of the Koinadugu Bye-election which many say was lost by the ruling SLPP party. (Photo above: Dr Dennis Bright of COPP).

This is what the statement says:

The Consortium of Progressive Political Parties (COPPP) wishes to express grave concern over the conduct of the recent Bye Elections in Koinadugu District for Chairman of the District Council and for Councillor of Ward 155 in the same District.

According to complaints by both political parties that contested the election (APC and SLPP), a press statement by the National Elections Watch (NEW) which is arguably the most important elections monitoring organization in Sierra Leone and several other reports, these elections were marred by violence, considerable vote rigging and results manipulation.

Once again, both the Electoral Commission (EC) which is responsible for the administration and conduct of elections and the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) which is mainly in charge of security at elections, stand accused of performing woefully to the extent that the conduct of these elections and results have been challenged by all parties and judged as not being fair or credible.

In light of these facts, COPPP would like to make the following observations:

Most, if not all previous bye elections conducted by the EC since the 2018 elections have been at the level of ward or constituency. This is the first bye election within this period that has been contested at the scale of a whole District (with a population of 204,021), consisting of four constituencies and eighteen wards and simultaneously within a ward in that same district.

And since the nation is gearing up towards the holding of a highly sensitive round of elections in 2022 and 2023, these Koinadugu elections were a great opportunity for the new EC administration under the leadership of Mr. Mohamed Konneh to demonstrate their competence and ability to handle large scale elections, and in any case convince the electorate that they are fit and ready to correct the mistakes EC has made in the past.

Secondly, last September, the EC organized a conference on electoral legal reforms, inspired by recommendations made by international and national observers of the 2018 elections. At that EU/UNDP sponsored conference a very serious critique based on statistics was made by one of the panelists, that the current composition of the EC staff, especially at the level of Directors and District elections managers was heavily biased in favour of the South and Eastern regions, implying that it was composed mainly of people planted there allegedly by the SLPP government to rig elections in their favour.

The reports of EC staff involvement in irregular practices in Koinadugu and endeavoring to rig the elections even to the extent of tampering with the results in favour of the SLPP at the final tallying centre, appears to confirm the fears and suspicions of members of the opposition: in order to continue to stay in power the current Government has captured the Electoral Commission and, given its current composition, this body’s capability to conduct a free, fair, credible and transparent election in 2022 and 2023 is no longer possible.

Based on the behavior of Government officials in previous bye elections such as resorting to violent acts including the destruction of ballot boxes in the Constituency 110 and Tonko Limba bye elections, the attack on an opposition Parliamentarian in the Samu bye election, the storming of polling stations and disruption of tallying in the Koinadugu elections, it is now clear that for the SLPP the 2022/2023 election is going to be a do-or-die affair, and that these bye elections for them are something of a dress rehearsal that indicates how far they are ready to go to win at all costs.

To say the least, this posture by a sitting regime has very grave implications for national security and unfortunately it appears as if at the moment no one, not even the moral guarantors and the international community are able to stop this Government from taking us to the brink.

Furthermore, as if to confirm its grand plan to influence the conduct of the next elections, the Government has stepped up its direct control of the electoral process by appointing the Chief Minister as Chairman of an Elections Steering Committee, a role that guarantees the SLPP Government exclusive control over the preparation and general organization of the forthcoming elections.

It is difficult to see how a Chief Minister whose survival depends on his party’s re-election can provide impartial, disinterested, and independent leadership of the committee that steers the planning and execution processes of the next elections.

Lastly, in regard to elections violence, the pattern that has evolved in the post-2018 bye elections is for those individuals close to the ruling party that participate in acts of violence, such as destruction of ballot boxes and burning of ballot papers at polling stations, to go scot-free. Government officials who were caught on video smashing ballot boxes at Constituency 110 were never charged to court and senior police officials present at the scene or who “managed” the situation, have since been promoted.

This ineffectiveness of the police in preventing or stopping electoral violence at the hand of well-connected public officials or regime supporters contrasts sharply with their brutal and bloody efficiency in dealing with opposition demonstrations where many young protesters have lost their lives to police live bullets.

Today, the people of Sierra Leone are living in a state of fear and intimidation not only due to the high-handedness of the police but because of the presence of armed military personnel everywhere, sending ominous pre-election signals of death and doom.

We at COPPP are of the view that a stitch in time saves nine and that now is the time to take corrective action that will restore some trust and confidence in the electoral process. We therefore make the following recommendations:

  1. That in order to ensure fairness, impartiality and a level playing field, the Chief Minister should give up his current position of Chairman of the Elections Steering Committee and be replaced by the Minister of Political and Public Affairs with a representative of the donors as co-chair.
  2. That an evaluation meeting between political parties, the Electoral Commission, the Sierra Leone Police, the Judiciary, the EU, UNDP and relevant civil society organizations be convened urgently to review the recent Koinadugu elections with a view to assessing the Electoral Commission’s and the security system’s ability and preparedness for the conduct of free, fair, transparent and credible elections in 2022/2023.
  3. That a regional and ethnic audit of the Directorate and District managerial staff be conducted so as to reassure the public that there are no imbalances that should warrant suspicion that the EC staff has been populated with SLPP agents and operatives.
  4. That a general assessment be conducted on the independence of the Electoral Commission from Government control
  5. That all political parties, especially the two oldest parties, deliberate and agree on a framework for making a direct commitment to the nation in regards to their respective share of responsibility in protecting Sierra Leoneans from harm and on safeguards to prevent the country from sliding into another crisis as a result of their conduct in the forthcoming elections.

In light of the foregoing statements, COPPP hereby declares its availabity and looks forward to discussing these recommendations further with the Electoral Commission, Development Partners, Civil Society and any other partner that may be interested in learning more about our position on this issue.

Signed (on behalf of COPPP):  Dr. Dennis Bright and Ms. Femi Claudius Cole.

3 Comments

  1. I think President Bio and his SLPP Party are playing with fire when, as events in Koinadugu have shown, they resort to violence, voter intimidation and rigging election results to achieve political victory. If I were they I would be very wary of creating the impression that elections held on my watch were a direct assault on our fledgling democracy and its institutions. This is because they are now running the risk of alienating not only a very significant number of their fellow citizens but also those international partners /institutions keen on seeing free, fair and transparent elections take root and firmly so in our country.

    President Bio and his party should also be concerned that their flagrant manipulation of democratic institutions and processes for electoral advantage amounts to laying themselves open to punitive action by people who are only too willing and ready to take matters into their own hands through violent, undemocratic means to defend and restore democracy! But perhaps if such a scenario came to pass, Bio might well put his hands up, give up power and walk into political oblivion willingly. After all, he was himself a coupist, a two-time coupist at that, when he and others took it upon themselves to put paid first to JS Momoh’s presidency in 1992 and second to the leadership of his own fellow coupist Valentine Strasser in 1996.

    I hope President Bio is fully aware that Guinea’s Alpha Condé who met his political demise just weeks ago did so because he hubristically and thus unwisely chose to interfere with and manipulate his country’s democratic institutions and processes to extend his hold on power. Coups against violators of the rules of democratic governance are back in fashion these days in our subregion. Forewarned is forearmed.

  2. Regarding Dr Bright, and consortium of opposition parties questioning the fitness of our National Electoral Commission capability of conducting both national and local elections, it is incumbent of public bodies that are supposed to be independent, and seen to be independent in carrying out their duties, that there work is carried out in an open, fair and transparent way. For the process to work, all stakeholders have to have a high degree of confidence in the system and the way it is delivered to the people . The most important aspect of representative governance is the people. It is their opinions that matters not Bio’s, or any one else for that matter . And the only way they can express those opinions is through the privacy of the polling boot. Just like the judiciary, the electoral commission is as important as any other public body that is responsible for looking after the peoples interests, and all the political parties that participate in our national political system.

    Without which the public will loose faith in our political system, and by extention we will never have the true elected representative that the people voted for in our national Parliament in the first place. We recalled the 2018 fiasco, when ten APC members of Parliament were ejected from Parliamentary chamber by the Sierra Leone police. That was the failure of the NEC to conduct those elections in a proper and timely manner. We don’t want a repeat of that shameful episode in 2023.The dominoe effects of that, it causes tensions, undermine security of the states,tribal and regional differences, promote unchecked corruption. The bottom line is those socalled elected representatives, that got to parliament fraudulently will never work in the interest of the people. Because they will have no fear of loosing their parliamentary seat, if they enjoy the backing of a corrupt electoral system that only works in their favour. We all know when the seed of doubt is planted in the minds of illiterate youths supporters, the results have always had a predictable outcomes , violence.

    Especially when voters and political parties feel they have been cheated out by the opposition. A good example is the recently concluded Koinadugu District bye Elections. So the head of the electoral commission, though appointmented by the president, should in no way think by viture of his appointment to that position, he has to curry favours to do the president bidding. He has to be whiter than white. No Ifs, or Buts. He should see his role and position as an independent arm of government working for the ordinary people of Sierra Leone, not the government of Sierra-leone.

  3. It’s rather unfortunate to see Dennis Bright who in my opinion is an INSTIGATOR in the politics of our nation. I suspect that he instigated Dr. Kandeh Yumkella against then retired Brigadier Maada Bio to form the NGC party. Now he is trying to deceive our citizens by forming another coalition after losing the election for the leadership of APPA. This attack on NEC started during the tenure of Commissioner Nfa Alie Conteh and now he is trying to destroy the integrity of the new commissioner Mr. Mohamed Konneh and the whole institution. Violence and intimidation in elections have been the cause of our problems, even when APC was in governance, they applied it against Mr. Mohamed Kambaramba Mansaray of the ADP party by burning his house and vandalizing his office. Also, former presidential candidate, Dr. Kandeh Yumkella was intimidated about his dual citizenship.

    President Bio respects the Rule of Law, that’s why he conducted the first Free and fair democratic elections despite threats from the RUF and the chopping off of limbs of some voters. So it’s unfortunate for him to describe the current situation in our nation in the negative and to predict that “2022 / 2023 election is going to be do- or-die affair”.

    Finally, complaining about elections results is not unique to Sierra Leone based on the fact that even the 2000 elections results in the USA between former President Bush and Al Gore was decided by the Supreme Court, and even recently former President Donald Trump is still complaining about the 2020 election result against President Joe Biden. So NGC or COPP has nothing to do with the Koinadugu election , and instead of Dennis Bright preaching “ DOOM and GLOOM” about our nation, he should advise the APC and SLPP to respect the election result from NEC or file a petition.

Tell us about your views

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.