October 1, 2022

With Ralph Sesay

The National Electoral Commissioner, N’fa –Alie Conteh, who was appointed some two years back to conduct the 2018 elections, had virtually took over a ‘Go Police’ National Electoral Commission (NEC) fraught with a lot of legal and institutional problems.

The 2007 and 2012 elections have been largely disputed by the opposition. Foreign observers, who have given a clean bill to both elections, have recommended a number of reforms which largely included legal and institutional issues to make the process better in subsequent elections.

The two main traditional parties, APC and SLPP, that continue to lead in every election, since independence, have always been satisfied with the Electoral Commission whenever the tide favours them, leaving the plethora of problems facing our electoral system unattended.

Christiana Thorpe, the former Commissioner of NEC, has, in the 2007 elections, singlehandedly and illegally cancelled 444 polling stations in Kailahun. This was a largely unpopular decision and had contributed to the loss of power by the incumbent.

Also, in the 2012 elections, Christiana Thorpe announced election results while recounting was still going on in certain areas in the country. Up to date, the Commission could not publish the results of these elections in their website, which is a key requirement for transparent and credible elections all over the world.

Just when she was about to read the results of the 2012 elections, amidst the huge anomalies accompanying those results, she taunted that people who had problems with the results should go to the Police.

APC stalwarts had used this ‘go police’ slogan to mock members of the opposition SLPP. Popular hip hop musician, LAJ, has even insinuated in one of his songs ‘Go Police’ quoting the Chief Electoral Commissioner, Christiana Thorpe.

Five years down the line, in the 2018 elections, we are still faced with these regulatory and legal issues surrounding the conduct of elections.

Goodluck Jonathan, head of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy (EISA), whiles presenting his organization’s preliminary report for the 2018 elections, had catalogued a number of such issues, which the new administration should look at speedily.

Key, among them, is the unresolved candidature fees which has still not been passed into law by the former Parliament. Hence the action of the President, continuing to subsidize for opposition candidates has got an undue influence over the other political parties, lack of a clear cut law to regulate, check and monitor party spending by the PPRC, the relationship between NEC and the President, the obsolete laws that hurriedly require the immediate swearing of President elects immediately elections are announced. This has rendered the process of challenging flawed election results in our courts meaningless. The 55% threshold, lack of clear cut dates for the conduction of Presidential and Parliamentary elections, amongst others.

In 2007, whiles the SLPP cried fowl they did nothing afterwards to provoke a national debate around these issues even when they were in Parliament. They had wasted all the five years in trying to elect a flag bearer forgetting that the problems that have denied them the march to State House are still hunting them.

Their presidential flag bearer had kept on trumpeting that he had not lost the 2012 elections and would also this time not accept any results that are not reflective of the wishes of the people. What have they done as a party to write the wrongs so that we would have credible elections?  Absolutely nothing. Should change just come overnight? Common on, no way.

It is also the same with the 2018 first round Presidential and Parliamentary election. SLPP seems also to be complacent because they are leading despite the huge criticism levied on the credibility of the polls by their counterparts from the other political parties. If ever they would emerge as victors of the runoff polls they should immediately commence huge reforms around our electoral system.

In the 2018 elections we have also seen the ruling APC crying fowl even when they have got all the state resources and paraphernalia at their advantage. They have clearly sensed that they are about to be shown the exit door. ‘What is good for the goose is good for the gander’.

They had praised NEC and Christina Thorpe for conducting both the 2007 and 2017 elections. They had not envisaged any problems then because they were winning. They had not called for a forensic audit of the polls, but why now? This is insincerity to the people of Sierra Leone. They have taken their party interest far above the peace and stability of the country.

Most conflicts in Africa have their root stemming from elections. This is why we should be very clear as a nation on what processes and procedures we use as blueprints for conducting peaceful elections and peaceful transfer of power.

Kandeh Yumkella of the National Grand Coalition has expressed very strong sentiments about the entire process and has pledged to engage on campaigns to have the country’s electoral system undergo serious reforms.

I think this is a welcome move by the party. They are of the opinion that if the problems facing our electoral system are not addressed they would be institutionalized and would become deep rooted and difficult to solve.

The lame duck Civil society organizations have not been able to make a meaningful presence just after their impressive performance in fighting for peace and the few post war years leading to Democracy.

Since then they are hugely divided around political lines. They would only cry when their political interests are at stake. You hardly hear them coming out united on a national issue. They are always fragmented, putting the people’s interest above their political considerations. Whiles they continue to receive funding across the board from donors to represent the wishes of the people; they have religiously supported the selfish interest of the political class. These selfish ambitions are being promoted by some sections of the Media, especially the print, all at the expense of the people.