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Jonathan-led EISA declares Sierra Leonean elections peaceful but …

*Appeals for calm as results collation continues
The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA)’s election observation mission led by former President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan on Friday in Freetown declared last Wednesday’s general elections in Sierra Leone as peaceful and orderly, adding that they were “conducted substantially in line with sub-regional, continental and international standards.”

Jonathan-led EISA declares Sierra Leonean elections peaceful

Jonathan who stated this in EISA’s interim report presented to the media also observed that voter turnout was impressive while the conduct of polling personnel was professional. He also appealed to the people of Sierra Leone and all stakeholders to remain as the electoral body continues to transmit and collate results of the elections.

The report however noted that there was “room for improvement especially in the legal framework to further level the playing field.”

Sierra Leone’s National Electoral Commission was yet to release official results as at Friday evening, as collation and tallying were still on going. However EISA in the interim report said it was well aware of this fact, adding that its findings “only reflects the mission’s observations up to the conclusion of the counting process at polling stations.”

The report said: “The EISA Election Observation Mission commends the people of Sierra Leone for turning out in large numbers to register their will on 7 March 2018. In the absence of an incumbent in the presidential race, the presidential election seems to be one of the most keenly contested in the post-civil war period.

“ The EISA EOM notes the efforts of the different institutions to guarantee the integrity of the elections. On election day, voter turnout was impressive and the conduct of polling personnel was professional. There were technical glitches that necessitated the postponement of elections in 18 polling stations. Election day proceeded in a largely peaceful manner albeit with isolated incidents that were immediately addressed.

“ The EISA EOM is of the view that the process up until the end of the first day of tallying has so far been conducted substantially in line with sub-regional, continental and international standards although there is room for improvement especially in the legal framework to further level the playing field.

“The EISA EOM urges the people of Sierra to remain calm while they wait to see the process through. We call on political leaders to show true leadership by respecting the rule of law throughout the results tally process.”

Other observer groups which returned similar verdicts in their earlier presentations included Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Union (AU), The Commonwealth, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), European Union (EU), and The Carter Center (TCC)


Below is the text of preliminary statement as presented by former President Jonathan:

EISA Election Observation Mission to the 2018 Elections in Sierra Leone
Preliminary Statement

This statement presents the preliminary findings, conclusions and recommendations on the pre-election period and Election Day operations of the observation mission deployed by the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA). It is issued while the transmission and tallying of results are still on-going, and therefore only reflects the mission’s observations up to the conclusion of the counting process at polling stations. This statement therefore neither covers the transmission of results nor the finalisation of the results tally process, this explains why this statement is preliminary. A final report covering the entire process will be issued by EISA about three months after the close of this mission.

The EISA Election Observation Mission (EOM) is comprised of 12 Short Term Observers (STOs) who were deployed in Bo, Freetown, Kenema, Makeni, and Port Loko. The observers are now returning from their areas of deployment.

The EISA EOM’s assessment methodology is guided by its commitments within the framework of the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation. It’s assessment of the electoral process is based on the principles and obligations for democratic elections stipulated in the following international benchmarks: the African Union Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections; the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance; and the Principles for Election Management, Monitoring and Observation (PEMMO).

Our findings

The political context in the lead up to the election was shaped by a number of issues which, in some cases, raised concerns and in other cases created uncertainties about the elections. These issues include the uncertainties around the declaration of the date of the elections and the debate about the referendum to adopt constitutional amendments proposed by the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC); and the court case against the NGC candidate that is yet to be adjudicated.

Within this context, the EISA EOM notes the commitment of Sierra Leoneans to participate in democracy building in their country. The EOM also commends the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) for facilitating the process that led to the signing of the ‘Freetown Declaration’ by presidential candidates on 28 February 2018. The signing of the declaration showed the commitment of the candidates to the conduct of peaceful elections. Cognisant of the fact that there were isolated incidents of violence in the tense pre-election period, the absence of widespread violence provided an atmosphere for Sierra Leoneans to freely show their support to their chosen candidates.

The legal framework broadly provides sufficient basis for the conduct of democratic elections. The EISA EOM notes the following areas where the legal framework could further be strengthened for more democratic elections:

The electoral system for presidential elections, which entails a 55% threshold and does not adequately address the issue of ethnic politics;
Absence of provisions for independent candidature in presidential elections;
Absence of provisions for affirmative action to promote the participation and representation of vulnerable and underrepresented groups such as women, youth and People with Disabilities (PWDs).

On election management, the EISA EOM notes that the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) are constitutional bodies with their independence provided in the constitution. The EOM is however of the view that NEC’s accountability to the president could potentially compromise its independence.

Faced with the responsibility of conducting the first elections after closure of the United Nations Integrated Peace building Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) in March 2014, and the financial challenges due budgetary constraints, the NEC with government funding and the support of international technical and financial partners made reasonable efforts to deliver on the election calendar.

Based on its assessment of the process until the release of this statement, the EISA EOM is of the view that the commission carried out its responsibilities in a non-partisan and proactive manner. It endeavoured to promptly address the operational challenges it was faced with.
Voter registration was jointly conducted by the NEC and the National Civil Registration Authority (NCRA) for the first time.

We note the challenges experienced during the data transfer process and the steps taken to review the register to include the missing names. It is our hope that the civil registry will be finalised before the next elections. The EISA EOM notes the delays in the printing of voter’s cards and the steps taken by NEC to ensure that registered voters who did not have the cards were not disenfranchised.

While the legal framework recognises the right of Sierra Leoneans living abroad to participate in electoral processes, the NEC did not provide for registration and voting by citizens residing outside the country. While noting the operational and financial requirements for diaspora voting, the EISA EOM regrets that eligible voters living abroad remain disenfranchised.

On the candidate nomination process, similar to the situation in 2012, the bill tabled before parliament proposing a reduction of the stipulated candidate nomination fees was not passed and the president subsidised the fees on behalf of candidates. EISA EOM considers the failure to pass the proposed regulations on nomination fees as a stumbling block to inclusive participation in the electoral process. The current high nomination fees, if maintained, could discourage qualified candidates from vulnerable groups such as women, youth and PWDs from exercising their right to participate in the elections as candidates. In addition, the continuous subsidy by the government, which is not anchored in the legal framework could be misconstrued as an incentive to entice voters or rival candidates

On party and campaign finance, we note the provisions for mandatory disclosure of finances on annual basis. We note the challenges faced by the PPRC to effectively enforce these provisions. We also note that the law does not provide for ceilings on campaign expenditure which opens the electoral process up to undue influence of money.

On the role of the media, we acknowledge the efforts of the Independent Media Commission (IMC) to train journalists on conflict-sensitive reporting, towards mitigating election-related conflict. The IMC also developed a Media Code of Ethics. However, the EOM noted with concern that, despite a caution on cessation of promotion of any political interest 24 hours before the elections, four newspapers contravened this directive.

The EISA EOM notes the value added by the presidential debates to public information, it specifically commends the initiative to convene debates for female candidates and local council election candidates. The EOM however considers the criteria set for parties to participate in the debates to be quite stringent, thus, only six out of the 16 presidential candidates met the criteria.

On women and youth participation, the EISA EOM notes that while women constitute 52% of the voter register, overall less than 20% women contested in the parliamentary elections. This shows no improvement in women’s representation. The 2018 elections however saw nomination of younger candidates.

Civil society actively participated in the process through advocacy for electoral reforms, voter education efforts, election observation as well promoting political participation of youth, women and PWDs through various interventions. We commend the CSOs for operating Women’s Situation Room, Media Situation Rooms and Civil Society Situation Room as hubs for information sharing and real time monitoring. It is of the view that these initiatives greatly enhanced the transparency of the poll.

On election day procedures, the EISA EOM notes that overall, the stipulated procedures for opening, voting, closing and counting were largely complied with and that staff demonstrated competence in execution of their duties. The decision of the NEC to cap the number of voters per station to 300 voters made the management of the process easier. Each voter took an average of 6 minutes to complete the process. The secrecy of the ballot was guaranteed in most of the stations visited and election materials were available throughout the day.

As stipulated in the Elections Act, party agents who were present at the count consented to and signed the Reconciliation and Result Form (RRF) and a copy was posted outside the station by the presiding officers. The EISA EOM notes with commendation the presence of citizen observers at all the polling stations visited. The presence of citizen observers and party agents is an important indicator of the transparency of an election.

The Mission notes with concern the presence of heavily armed security personnel at the SLPP presidential candidate’s premises at Goderich in the late afternoon on election day. Thanks to the presence of high level international dignitaries, the situation was de-escalated. The EISA EOM urges the security forces to refrain from such acts of aggression which are a potential threat to the existing peace and security in the country.

On the tally process: EISA observers visited five regional tally centres. In its assessment of the early aspects of the results tally process, the EISA EOM notes that the process was off to a slow start as officials waited for materials to be transported from the different areas. The layout of the tally centres and the procedures stipulated by NEC did not facilitate direct observation of the procedures or easy interface between officials and observers. Observers depended on the figures projected on the screens. Tally procedures at the centre in Port Loko was interrupted for some hours due to technical problems with the generator.

At the time of writing this statement, tallying was ongoing. The mission will provide further detailed assessment of the tally in its final report.

Our recommendations
Based on its observations and findings, the EISA EOM offers the following recommendations:

Considering the importance of the result tally process and the tensions that attend this process, we urge the NEC to manage the process in a transparent and professional manner. Specifically paying attention to information management to avoid suspicions and misinformation.
In the short term, in the event of a runoff election:

Provide lamps and extra batteries that will cover both the opening and counting procedures.

Reconsider the ban on vehicle movement to ensure citizens are able to move freely to exercise their franchise.

Take steps to ensure that incidents similar to what happened at the premises of the SLPP candidate that involved interference by security agencies is not repeated.

In the long term:
Legal reforms:

Revisit the report of the CRC and begin the process of constitution review deliberations at the parliament early in the life of the incoming parliament.

Consider adoption of a lower threshold for determining the winner of presidential election. To also address the issue of ethnic politics, further criteria to ensure national spread of votes regionally for the winner of presidential election should be considered.

Review the legal framework to strengthen the regulation of party and campaign finance and also strengthen the powers of the PPRC to effectively regulate party finance.

In line with article 9(1b) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, which Sierra Leone has ratified, the legal framework should be revised to provide affirmative action to promote the representation of women in elective positions.

The legal framework should also be revised to provide affirmative action to promote the representation of PWDs in elective positions
Election procedures

The NEC should consider simplifying the ballot reconciliation and counting procedures to make it less tedious and easier for polling personnel, observers and monitors.

The NCRA should finalise the civil registration process that started in 2017 and put appropriate steps in place to effectively register births and deaths. This will further strengthen the credibility of the voter register for future elections.

Reconsider the ban on vehicles movement as this creates unnecessary tension and suspicion.

CSOs and the media should consider a more inclusive criteria for participation in the presidential debates. All parties should be given equal opportunity to sell their agenda to the electorate.

The EISA EOM commends the people of Sierra Leone for turning out in large numbers to register their will on 7 March 2018. In the absence of an incumbent in the presidential race, the presidential election seems to be one of the most keenly contested in the post-civil war period. The EISA EOM notes the efforts of the different institutions to guarantee the integrity of the elections.

On election day, voter turnout was impressive and the conduct of polling personnel was professional. There were technical glitches that necessitated the postponement of elections in 18 polling stations. Election day proceeded in a largely peaceful manner albeit with isolated incidents that were immediately addressed.

The EISA EOM is of the view that the process up until the end of the first day of tallying has so far been conducted substantially in line with sub-regional, continental and international standards although there is room for improvement especially in the legal framework to further level the playing field.

The EISA EOM urges the people of Sierra to remain calm while they wait to see the process through. We call on political leaders to show true leadership by respecting the rule of law throughout the results tally process.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.