Like the European Union, the Carter Centre and Sierra Leone’s Political Parties Registration Commission ( PPRC ) , the Economic Community of West African States ( ECOWAS ) has given the Sierra Leone elections a huge thumbs up. According to them, everything went well and the few, isolated incidents of irregularities do not affect the credibility of the elections. This is a big blow to the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP ) who are involved in a pity party presently claiming that there were wide-spread irregularities.
ECOWAS OBSERVERVATION MISSION TO THE 17 NOVEMBER 2012 GENERAL ELECTIONS IN THE REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE
1. Pursuant to the Constitutional Convergence Principles of the Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance (2001), and within the framework of the Program of Assistance to Member States organizing elections, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, His Excellency Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo, deployed an ECOWAS Observer Mission (EOM) to monitor the conduct of the Presidential, Parliamentary, Council, and Mayoral elections, which took place concurrently in Sierra Leone on 17 November 2012.
2. The Mission, made up of 150 observers, includes delegations drawn from the ECOWAS Council of the Wise, West African Ambassadors accredited to Abuja, and the Community Parliament and Court of Justice. It also includes experts drawn from the relevant Ministries and Electoral Management Bodies of Member States, Civil Society Organizations, and the Media. It is led by Air Vice-Marshall Christian Edem Dovlo, Commandant of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC), Accra, and supported by the Vice-President of the ECOWAS Commission and a technical team from the Commission.
3. Prior to the deployment, ECOWAS had been monitoring the political and security situation in the country in the build-up to the elections through its Early Warning Mechanism. In September 2012, the President of the Commission dispatched a Fact-Finding Mission to the country to interact with the principal stakeholders in the electoral process, with a view to assessing the state of preparedness for the elections
II. Arrival and Deployment
4. The ECOWAS Observer Mission began arriving in the country on 11 November 2012. The Mission maintained contacts with the State authorities; interacted with the media; and held consultations with other observer missions, including the African Union, the European Union, the Commonwealth, the National Elections Watch, and the Women’s Situation Room. It also monitored the concluding phase of the electioneering campaign.
5. Following a briefing and orientation session on 15 November 2012, teams of ECOWAS Observers were deployed to 64 towns and villages throughout the fourteen Administrative Districts of Sierra Leone. These include 14 localities in Freetown (Western Area Urban I, Urban II, and Rural); 7 in Kenema; 4 in Kono; 5 in Kailahun; 5 in Bombali; 3 in Kambia; 5 in Port Loko; 4 in Tonkolili; 3 in Koinadugu; 6 in Bo; 2 in Bonthe; 4 in Moyamba; and 2 in Pujehun.
6. While in the field, the ECOWAS observers maintained contact with the Mission Situation Room in Freetown and with other missions. A team of observers also monitored proceedings at the National Tallying Centre in Freetown.
III. Preliminary Observations and Recommendations
7. Having analyzed dispatches and reports from team leaders in the field, and after a debriefing session with returning observers, the ECOWAS Observer Mission to the 2012 General Elections in Sierra Leone wishes to make a Preliminary Declaration on the electioneering campaign and developments on Election Day, 17 November 2012, as follows:
A. The Campaign, Opening of the Poll, Polling, Counting and Collation
i. Overall, the concluding phases of the electioneering campaign were colorful, enthusiastic, and boisterous. They passed off peacefully without any major incidents, helped by the holding of campaigns on alternate days and the vigilance of the security agencies.
ii. Except in a few cases, the media was polarized, partisan, and intemperate, reflecting the sharp Red – Green divide of the country’s political landscape between the All Peoples Congress (APC) and the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP).
iii. The Cooling-Off Day (16 November 2012) was generally observed.
iv. On Election Day, voters were observed in teeming numbers at the polling centers long before the official poll opening time of 7:00 am. A few had spent the night at the centers while several others had arrived as early as 4:00 am.
v. The demographic spread among the voters showed a predominance of women and the youth.
vi. There was conspicuous but unobtrusive presence of security agents at most of the polling centers observed. Security was provided by the Sierra Leone Police Force, supplemented by the Fire Service, Local Council Security and other para-security agencies.
vii. Overall, the political parties and their followers respected the prohibition of the display of party colors and symbols on Election Day.
viii. The vehicular restrictions put in place on Election Day, including manned check-points at vantage points around Freetown and other cities, greatly improved electoral security, even though they constrained the ability of some voters to exercise their franchise.
ix. In the main, polling officials were on the scene at most of the polling centers in advance of the official opening time.
x. Party agents of APC and SLPP were present at the opening of polls at all the polling stations observed. In addition, some other agents of between one and three other political parties were also observed, in particular the People’s Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC), Democratic People’s Alliance (DPA) and Independent candidates.
xi. Essential electoral materials were in place in most of the polling centers observed, and the polls opened within 30 to 60 minutes of the official opening time of7:00 am.
xii. However, materials arrived late in a few polling centers, causing delays in the commencement of polling. Instances observed included SLMB Primary School in Port Loko (Code 0701), where materials arrived at 10:05 am; Kondembaya’s Court Barry in Koinadugu District, Bombali and some parts of the Gbong District, where voting did not start until after 3: 00 pm in some instances.
xiii. At the opening of polls, Polling Center Queue Controllers at the centers visited struggled to maintain order due to a combination of insufficient numbers, and the influx and enthusiasm of voters; the situation improved gradually with time.
xiv. In the early hours of voting, the Voter Enquiry Officers were too few and professionally unprepared to guide voters to their designated polling stations, leading to frustration. The situation was worsened by the difficulty in identifying designated polling stations from the displayed serial numbers of voters.
xv. In some areas, the physically challenged, the aged and nursing mothers, encountered difficulties in accessing polling stations.
xvi. Despite the challenges, voters exhibited maximum patience and perseverance in their determination to exercise their civic rights and responsibilities.
xvii. The voting process was slow at the beginning, complicated by the sheer number of elections being conducted, On the average, it took between 4 and 5 minutes to complete the voting cycle. However, as the polling officials warmed to the task, the pace quickened.
xviii. The polling officials demonstrated adequate professionalism in carrying out their duties while party agents ably watched over their party and candidates’ interests.
xix. International and regional observers were present in most polling centers visited. These included, besides ECOWAS observers, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), European Union (EU), African Union (AU), the Commonwealth, Carter Centre, British High Commission and American Embassy, the Women’s Situation Room, and the Women’s Observer Mission. Effective presence of Local Observers, was also recorded, led by the National Elections Watch (NEW), and including Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL), the Political Parties Registration Commission, Sierra Leone Action Network on Small Arms (SLANSA), Council of Churches in Sierra Leone (CCSL), Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church (JPCCC), Sierra Leone Teachers Union (SLTU).
xx. On the whole, the voting process took place in an orderly, transparent and professional manner, and secrecy of the ballot was in the main ensured.
xxi. By 3:00 pm, most of the electorate who wished to do so, had exercised their franchise.
xxii. In most polling stations observed, the polls closed at the official time of 5:00 pmexcept in the cases where materials arrived too late.
xxiii. 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.
B. Challenges Observed
8. Besides the deficiencies noted above, the ECOWAS Observer Mission also noted a few isolated incidents that could have marred the smooth and peaceful conduct of the polls, including the following:
i. Where voting closed well after 5:00 pm, the absence of back-up lighting obliged party agents to improvise with cell-phones and flashlights to enable counting to proceed.
ii. The premeditated acts of intimidation at certain polling stations, Around 5:15 pm on Election Day, a Cabinet Minister, dressed in military fatigues, led a convoy of armed soldiers to the densely populated precinct of Hill Station in Freetown. There, they were confronted by the local youth, provoking chaos and panic. It took the arrival of observers from ECOWAS and NEW, coupled with the intervention of the Operational Support Division units for the convoy to beat a retreat.
iii. At Polling Center Code No. 14221 at Metropolitan Center, Wilkinson Road, an individual snatched a number of unused ballot papers at Polling Station No. 5 and ran away. He was, however, later apprehended by the police.
iv. At the ‘Under 5’ Government Hospital Polling Center (Code 02013) in Kenema, ECOWAS observed the display of party posters.
v. At the same Center, as well as in a number of rural areas, the absence of standard polling booths and their poor improvisation may have undermined the secrecy of the ballot.
vi. It is the view of the ECOWAS Mission that these inadequacies observed do not diminish the transparency, fairness or the credibility of the electoral process at this point in time.
vii. Further, the Mission would like to draw attention to the mitigating circumstances with regard to the inadequacies observed. First, the elections are the first to be organized solely by Sierra Leoneans themselves since the end of the Civil War. Secondly, the novelty of the biometric system, coupled with the conduct of multiple elections on the same day, made certain shortcomings inevitable.
C. Preliminary Conclusions and Recommendations
9. In light of the preceding observations and analysis, the ECOWAS Observer Mission to the 2012 General Elections wishes to make the following preliminary conclusions:
i. The preparation of the 2012 elections, the conduct of the electioneering campaign, as well as the processes on Election Day up until the certification of the results of the four elections by the responsible officials at the polling stations, were free, fair, and credible. The vast majority of the qualified Sierra Leonean population, who wished to do so, were provided the required freedom and space to exercise their constitutional rights to vote or to be voted for.
ii. The ECOWAS Observer Mission will continue to closely monitor the concluding phases of the electoral process, in particular the transmission of the electoral results and supporting materials to the National Tallying Center, as well as the processing and declaration of provisional results, and will make further declarations where and when appropriate.
iii. The ECOWAS Observer Mission warmly congratulates the peace-loving people of Sierra Leone, particularly the political leaders, their followers, and the electorate in general, for the tenacity, determination, sense of moderation and patriotism demonstrated in their quest for democracy and development. The Mission wishes to also commend the National Electoral Commission, the security agencies and all the other concerned stakeholders for their invaluable contribution to the success so far achieved, and urges them to pursue the process to its logical conclusion with the same determination and commitment.
iv. At this juncture, the ECOWAS Mission would like to caution individuals and groups, in particular the political parties, the media and civil society organizations, to refrain from speculating on or declaring unofficial results until they are officially declared. In this regard, the Mission urges the Electoral Commission to come out with the provisional results as soon as possible.
v. The Mission calls 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
vi. Regarding the need to further strengthen the electoral process in Sierra Leone, the ECOWAS Observer Mission wishes to recommend to the in-coming Government, the Electoral Commission, and all other relevant stakeholders, to prioritize voter education and strengthen the electoral infrastructure in the country. The Mission also wishes to urge the in-coming Parliament to revisit the issue of nomination fees for candidates, which nearly marred the preparatory phase of the 2012 Elections, with a view to finding a consensual solution to the matter.
vii. ECOWAS wishes to congratulate the people of Sierra Leone for their exemplary comportment up to this point.
Done at Freetown, this 17th Day of November 2012
The Head of the ECOWAS Mission