A very important meeting dealing with Sierra Leone’s forthcoming elections was held at the United Nations Friday June 22, 2012. At the meeting, which was held under the aegis of the UN PeaceBuilding Commission Special Sierra Leone country Configuration and attended by stakeholders in the International Community, the Chair of the National Elections Commission, Dr. Christiana Thorpe, made an authoritative presentation about all the measures and structures that have been put in place to ensure free, fair and credible Presidential, Legislative and local Council Elections in November. (Photo: Dr. Thorpe in a discussion with Ambassador Kamara (right) and the Director and Deputy Head of the PBC Support Office, Mr Ejeviome Eloho Otobo (left))
Stakeholders in Sierra Leone joined the meeting by teleconference and they also gave detailed presentations about preparations and challenges as Sierra Leone heads into very crucial elections in November. The participants from Freetown included the new Executive Representative of the UN Secretary General, Mr. Jens Anders Toyberg-Frandzen; the Inspector General of Police, Francis Munu ; the Registrar of the Political Parties Registration Commission, Mr. Abraham John; and representatives of the National Elections Watch, Civil Society and other groups .
(Dr. Thorpe (second from left) poses with the chair of the PBC Sierra Leone configuration, Ambassador Guilermo RIshchynski, Ambassador Keh Kamara and her sister Patricia Omo Thorpe of the Save Sierra Leone Foundation)
Dr. Thorpe, who is held in very high esteem within the corridors of the UN for the excellent Presidential and Legislative Elections she delivered the nation in 2007, told the UN that Sierra Leone was moving not only towards elections but to a progressive and stable country. “We have finished the Biometrics registration process and voters registration cards will soon be ready for distribution,” she disclosed. According to Dr. Thorpe, the provisional list has 2.6 million registered voters. She stressed that a very important aspect of the process is the inclusion of the entire voting populace to give everybody a sense of participation, which would in turn make the elections peaceful and credible.
Dr. Thorpe said that NEC is presently preparing a staff of 9,000 people for the exhibition process which will start on June 30 and end on July 20. She disclosed that once the registration had been fully completed and the missing names included, the voters list will be ready in September, from where the process will move on to nominations and the campaign. She said that only people with legitimate receipts will have their missing names added back to the voters’ register.
She welcomed international observers who would provide a psychological impact and give confidence to the public that the elections are free and fair. Stressing the important need for these observers , she called on them to go to Sierra Leone and observe the elections to help make the process credible. She also told the UN about the relevant legal framework for the elections which has been given presidential assent . The NEC, she went on, was working on abridging the legal framework to make it accessible to members of the public.
On funding, the eloquent Elections Boss said that the NEC was on track until the end of June . She commended the Government of Sierra Leone and the International Community for their financial support.
Talking about the challenges facing the process presently, Dr. Thorpe drew attention to the dire need for transportation for the NEC, the Police and the army to help NEC deliver services. She commended the Sierra Leone Police for providing 14 trucks for the registration process. She told the UN that her Commission needed more vehicles to service the 3, 000 polling centres and that an appeal has been made to Nigeria to help the NEC by providing the needed vehicles.
Dr. Thorpe said that the other challenge is the political atmosphere in the country. She emphasized the National Elections Commission ‘s commitment to a peaceful atmosphere . She said that her Commission was working with different stakeholders to make the elections process inclusive and accountable to help facilitate a peaceful atmosphere . She disclosed that she tries to make the process inclusive by meeting with the press regularly and engaging the various political parties on a regular basis. She is also planning interactive sessions with the NEC, the Human Rights Commission , the PPRC , the National Elections Watch Civil Society and other relevant bodies. She said that NEC has also realized the need to address all political parties and to motivate them at the district level where the chaos usually starts.
Still talking about the challenges, Dr. Thorpe also acknowledged the serious concerns expressed by members of the International Community about the provocative journalism in Sierra Leone , which according to them, has the potential to create chaos during the elections. In their contributions, some members of the International Community accused the Sierra Leone media of harmful reporting and analyses of political events . Agreeing with them, Dr. Thorpe described some Sierra Leone news media as “naughty” and she condemned the tendency of the media to fan tribal and regional flames , but she assured the UN that everything was being done by NEC to neutralize the effects of these irresponsible newspapers through the NEC’s own program of media and public education. She stressed that thankfully only 20% of the public read newspapers and the other 80% do not have access to them . She told the UN that NEC has established Ward electoral committees . NEC has recruited members who do not need to be literate but live , sleep and breathe in their communities. They will be tasked with the responsibility to go door-to-door sensitizing Sierra Leoneans in different languages about the need for national unity and peaceful elections.
In his contribution, the Deputy Permanent Representative for Legal Affairs, Ambassador Osman Keh Kamara , expressed thanks to the ERSG, PPRC and other members of the panel who teleconferenced from Freetown. He also commended the PBCSO and the International Community for their support to Sierra Leone. The Ambassador added that “We have heard from the Elections Commissioner, who has underlined the need for a peaceful political atmosphere . She has also spoken about the role of the press, political parties and district chairpersons in creating credibility to the process”. He then called on the International Community to continue their unflinching support to the nation.
Leeroy Wilfred Kabs-Kanu, Minister Plenipotentiary, Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone to the UN, USA