Sorie I Kanu: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 20 April 2023:
As the June 24, 2023, multi-tier election draws near, Sierra Leoneans at home and in the diaspora are closely monitoring the process in the build up to this long-awaited event. In addition to the concerns raised about the level of preparedness of all the institutions involved in the elections, Sierra Leoneans as well as the international community are equally concerned about the credibility of the final outcome of this election.
It is an exercise that will presumably be dictated by the principles of fairness, transparency, impartiality and inclusiveness within an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity.
As the clock ticks to the hour, social media and traditional media are inundated with events that have the potential to blur expectations. One way or the other, the main actors in these elections are yet to provide tangible evidence to the people of this country, especially to the opposition and the international observers, on the prospects of a level playing ground and credibility of the final outcome.
Recent events in the length and breadth of the country that include, but not limited to the protracted judicial proceedings involving opposition figures, especially the Flagbearer and the Freetown City Council mayoral candidates of the main opposition All People’s Congress party, do not, in themselves, signal an iota of confidence to a vast majority of the populace.
I am not writing to prejudice the proceedings of the court, nor do I intend to question the legality of these cases as they fall within the competence of the court system. I however write to raise concerns about the timing of the trials and the potential impact they may have on the parties involved with just less than ninety days to polling day.
This is particularly true in the case of the corruption charges against the Flagbearer of the APC, of which, the proceedings have lasted for nearly two years and has now taken a centre stage just weeks to the polling day.
While the Judiciary is acting in accordance with its mandate in the dispensation of justice, it is sufficient to note that continuation of the court proceedings, at this crucial time, may tend to limit the available time for Dr Samura Matthew Wilson Kamara and indeed his party, in reaching out to the people as other candidates, including the incumbent are doing now unimpeded.
This certainly does not provide a level playing ground for the opposition and hence a major stumbling block to the prospects of free, fair, credible and transparent elections.
The continuation of these trials in running up to Elections certainly disadvantages those candidates involved; and as in the case of Dr Samura Matthew Wilson Kamara, it is image denting and potentially affecting his popularity and that of his political party.
To the ordinary man the trial depicts the opposition Flagbearer as untrustworthy and continues to expose him as being corrupt. This will inevitably provide credence to the others in the presidential race and definitely thwarts possibilities of a level playing ground.
It is apparent that the prosecution, acting on behalf of the government, is arm twisting the court to make the matter purely legal while executing a discrete political agenda that deliberately punctures the prospect of the opposition in the forthcoming elections.
Equally disturbing in the build up to the June 24, 2023, elections is the threat to peace of the electorate and to the people of this country.
In addressing these concerns, much of the burden lies squarely on the security forces and the Office of National Security. Over the last few months, and of most recently, social media has been dominated with audios, videos and photos purportedly originating from either side of the political divide.
If the contents and messages on these media sources are anything to go by, there is every need for the security forces to be proactive in a professionally acceptable manner in a bid to protect the lives and properties of our people.
My attention in this regard, is drawn to messages from, but also not limited to Adebayo, Austin Johnny, Mr. Northerner and a self-acclaimed spokesman of the ex-servicemen that are going viral on social media.
The contents of these audios and videos are very worrying and therefore pose a serious threat to the peace and security of the citizenry during and after the conduct of the Elections. This situation is further complicated by statements of political intolerance coming from very prominent national figures as well as acts of intimidation on political opponents, especially in the strongholds of the government.
Most recently, a woman was allegedly manhandled in Kenema for displaying a banner of the Flagbearer of the main opposition APC Party. It is also worth noting that members of both ruling SLPP and opposition APC are pointing fingers at each other on allegations of destroying political banners and billboards in the Northwest as well as in the southeast.
These developments, in the run up to an election, are indicative of a culture of political intolerance emerging amongst the main political contenders and hence a recipe for chaos and anarchy, if they are not handled with the highest level of maturity and professionalism.
Quite apart from these electoral related issues are isolated killings of civilians through mob justice and most recently the death of a senior police officer in Makeni.
Although these cases are apparently not related to election violence, but they continue to compound the security situation in the country and may tend to overstretch the capacity of the security forces as we are approaching to polling day.
All these, in a nutshell, clouds the nation with an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty to the civilian populace as well as to our security personnel. It is an extremely dire situation for this nation that requires only people with cool heads and strong ethical values to tackle.
In all these, the elections management bodies – Electoral Commission Sierra Leone (ECSL) and the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) take the centre stage. Regulations on the conduct of political parties and rules on the conduct of elections must be seen to be transparent and devoid of giving undue advantage to one party against the others.
Members of these two bodies must transcend above partisanship as the entire voting populace and nation at large entrust in them to be fairly impartial in all that they do. On the side of the ECSL there is indeed a lot more to be done to salvage its image.
By all indications, the ECSL has failed to portray its image as an independent entity. The changing of people’s representation from a Single Member Constituency to District Block System within a period of less than a year to elections, lacks an iota of justification other than paving way for an increased parliamentary representation for the ruling SLPP.
This, coupled with their previous management of Bye Elections, leaves very little doubt on the people to questioning their integrity and competence in managing a free, fair, credible and transparent elections.
The District Block System does not only attempt to tilt the balance in favour of the ruling SLPP party, but it further disenfranchises the electorate in term of electing their parliamentary Representatives.
The system has taken away parliamentary representation from the people that are supposed to be represented, and instead vested it in the parties’ headquarters. By so doing the people’s representatives are virtually out of the people’s reach.
Also hanging on the balance is the provision of standard voting materials. As of date Sierra Leoneans are yet to know the details of the procurement process used in the award of contracts for the printing of electoral materials.
While the opposition parties are crying foul for being left out in the process of selecting contractors, the ECSL still owes an explanation to the people of this country, including donor nations and institutions, about the poor standard of Voters Cards and delays in making them available to the electorate.
The credibility of the ECSL is also seriously challenged by its very composition with a membership that lacks both regional and tribal balance.
In the midst of all these difficulties, there is every room for the people, especially the opposition to doubt the existence of a level playing ground for the June 24, 2023 elections in Sierra Leone.
The PPRC has thrown more doubts on the process by its latest banning of political street rallies. Perhaps the framers of the regulation completely misconstrued the differences between a rally and a procession.
What actually pertains in election campaigns over the years in this country are street processions – not street rallies. That has been the culture of the politics of this country during elections time, since Independence. And I think banning it is to further complicate the managing of the conduct of political parties in the run up to elections.
Emphasis should therefore be placed on controlling street processions which are, with all fairness to political parties, completely unavoidable.
With the above being the foundation set for the conduct of the forthcoming elections, there is indeed very little hope for a credible outcome of the elections. It is not surprising therefore that even the distribution of voter cards is hastily done to the extent that a good number of registered voters will be seriously constrained to access them.
Transferring the distribution of voter cards to District Headquarter towns is a blatant disregard of people’s right to an unfettered access to such a vital civic material, thereby leading to their disenfranchisement.
If the ECSL is serious about conducting a free, fair, transparent and credible elections, allocating ten days for the distribution of voters cards at registration centres is grossly inadequate and hence there is every need for an extension of that exercise.
Concentrating the distribution of the remaining cards at District Headquarter towns is even out of the question, considering the fact that people in remote villages may never have access to their cards and hence, their disenfranchisement.
In a situation where an incumbent becomes desperate to retain power at the expense of transparency and credibility, as well as international good practices, there is indeed every need for the elections management bodies not only to be impartial but to be seen doing such.
The ECSL and PPRC have fallen far short of public expectations and in that regard, these institutions have mortgaged the very trust the people have bestowed on them. It stands to reason therefore that a call for the interventions of the international community and donor nations in the respective domains of electoral management is now vital more than any time before.
Like previous pre-elections, observer teams have noted that there is indeed very little trust existing between the people of this country and the elections management bodies which, by extension, include the courts and the law enforcement agencies.
Robust monitoring by the international observers, remains the only hope for Sierra Leoneans to achieve free, fair, credible and transparent elections with results that will be acceptable to all parties.