by Emmanuel Oloniruha
The ECOWAS Election Observation Mission has described the 2018 Sierra Leone electioneering campaigns and electoral processes as free, fair and credible.
Prof. Amos Sawyer, Head of the mission and former interim President of Liberia, stated this while delivering the mission’s preliminary report on the Wednesday general elections.
Sawyer said that though some challenges were witnessed on the election day, they did not in any way undermined the recorded success of the election.
“The preparation of the 2018 elections, the conduct of the electioneering campaigns, as well as the processes on Election Day, up until the release of the results of the four elections by the officials at the polling stations, were free, fair, and credible.’’
Sawyer said that the mission would continue to closely monitor the concluding phases of the electoral process, in particular the transmission of the electoral results and sending of materials to the National Tallying Centre.
He added that the mission would also monitor closely the processing and declaration of provisional results, and would make further declarations where and when appropriate.
He congratulated Sierra Leoneans, particularly the political leaders, their followers, and the electorate, for the tenacity, determination, sense of moderation and patriotism demonstrated in their quest for democracy and development.
“The Mission wishes to commend the National Electoral Commission, the security agencies and all stakeholders for their invaluable contribution to the success so far achieved.
“The mission urges them to pursue the process to its logical conclusion with the same determination and commitment.’’
He cautioned individuals and groups, in particular the political parties, the media and civil society organisations, to refrain from speculating on or declaring unofficial results until they were officially declared.
“In this regard, the Mission urges the National Electoral Commission to come out with the provisional results as soon as possible.
“They also called on all candidates and their supporters to continue to respect due process and the rule of law at all times.
“Given the individual and collective responsibility for the success of the process, the mission urges all to resort only to legal means to seek redress of any grievances emanating from the electoral process,” he said.
The head of the mission called on the in-coming government, the NEC, and all other relevant stakeholders, to prioritise voter education and strengthen the electoral infrastructure in the country.
The mission head also urged the in-coming parliament to take a look at the issue of dual nationality and revisit the affirmative action bill on women participation in politics.
Sawyer described the overall electioneering campaign phases as colorful, enthusiastic and boisterous.
He added that on election day, voters were observed in teeming numbers at the polling centres long before the official poll opening time of 7 a.m, saying that several of them had arrived as early as 4a.m.
He said that the mission also observed that essential electoral materials were in place in most of the polling centres observed, and the polls opened within 30 minutes of the official opening time of 7a.m.
“Despite the challenges, voters exhibited maximum patience and perseverance in their determination to exercise their civic rights and responsibilities.
He said that the polling officials also demonstrated adequate professionalism in carrying out their duties, while party agents ably watched over their party and candidates’ interests.
“On the whole, the voting process took place in an orderly, transparent and professional manner, and secrecy of the ballot was in general ensured.
“In most polling stations observed, the polls closed at the official time of 5p.m. because most voters left home very early in the morning to exercise their franchise.
“The sorting, counting, tallying, and reconciliation of the ballot, as well as the declaration and certification of results at the polling stations were carried out in a professional, transparent and credible manner, and under the watch of party agents and observers.’’
He identified some of the challenges observed during the election to include the presence of heavily armed military men intimidated some voters, as a result of which some of the aged voters had to leave the queue for home, out of fear.
“The Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) results collation centres in the Godrich area of Freetown was besieged for over five hours by agents of the Sierra Leone Police, who alleged that there were hacking equipment in the premises to intercept NEC information.
“Even though this incidence was eventually resolved, the ECOWAS Mission hopes that in future incident of this nature will be dealt with carefully. ‘’
“It is the view of the ECOWAS Observer Mission that these inadequacies observed do not diminish the transparency, fairness or the credibility of the electoral process at this point in time.’’
Sawyer disclosed that the ECOWAS Mission in the build up to the elections apart from other assistance it rendered provided $750,000 as financial assistance to the government of Sierra Leone for the implementation of training, awareness and civic education activities.