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The EU EOM Report’s Presentation
Handed over to the executive head of the country, the Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio, the EU’s EOM report officiated by Evin Incir, was received with smiles of candour, intent and usual procedural rituals or show of protocol. Are those smiles by HE Bio indicative of the phrase ” get on with it and one more huddle crossed” to validate his executive position by the very nature of the report’s presentation? That may linger in the minds of many and open to several interpretations but the report itself gives weight to the impasse in the country adding to the body of evidence raised earlier by many. The question is; will that save the stalemate with the opposition APC’s position on leadership legitimacy or will it influence a U-turn by the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) and the current executive administration of the Bio regime within Sierra Leone’s legal framework and systems? That is open for arguments from various schools of thought be it legal, moral or in the interest of the state.
A few days before the EU’s EOM results publication, the government’s public relations and by extension, the Minister of Information, spelled it clear there will be no re-run of the 2023 elections and that the ECSL’s announced results hold. Was that a defensive and shocking message or warning to the opposition, development partners, or the Peace Commission in any way on the position the current administration has taken? What angle will the Peace Commission take if such statements are out and considering the details laid out in the EU report on election irregularities, intimidation, trust, and restrictive competition? Remember these are the sticking points with the opposition APC party boycotting participation in any form of governance. These views of the APC may well be shared by other smaller opposition parties and independent candidates but the main opposition party, the APC, seems to be taking the lead for redress.
Did the EU’s report shed more light on the doubts and credibility of election results raised by the APC?
The EU’s assertions were made quite clear and objective in their report’s delineation of the election process opacity, impeded meaningful observation, and publication of disaggregated results by polling stations after the declaration of winners including “statistical inconsistencies and mathematical improbabilities” served by the ECSL.
The Contending Issue
The crux of the matter in the presented report is “statistical inconsistencies, mathematical improbabilities, protection of candidates, inclusion, transparency and publication of disaggregated results”. The EU was talking from an observational point of view raising issues on credibility as highlighted by other players. The APC, an active opposition party, indicates some element of concern here on election credibility claiming their tabulation and that of ECSL’s are at increased variance. This position is supported by Cater Centre, International Observers and the National Election Watch (NEW).
Recently, the US placed visa restrictions on persons deemed to be part of the rigging process though they did not make public the names of those on the visa restriction list. Given this backdrop, who is therefore telling the truth? ECSL or Observers? Who is tampering with party truth, institutional truth, legal truth, tentative truth, and moral truth? The legal debate and moral high ground meet arguments. The big “who” question re-echoes in the minds of many. Who is interfering? Who is telling the truth? Who is being questioned? Who will answer?
The EU report highlighted pre-election and polling day activities resulting in distrust in the ECSL and other state institutions. The report further highlighted post-election build-up leading to the NEW leadership fleeing the country on the veracity of tabulation suggesting a run-off instead of an outright winner as announced by the ECSL. Given these documented shreds of evidence, there is therefore a need for national dialogue otherwise this may breed a recipe for social unrest if conciliatory and conciliary approaches to solving the impasse are not taken seriously by the parties involved. Failure to make a selfless move as such may result in strained foreign investment and donor partner development program support on the premise of credibility, legitimacy, or potential unrest. This will only augment the current suffering of the masses in Sierra Leone if the stand-off continues.
Our opinion hinges on the fact that the observer mission has a legitimate presence within Sierra Leone. There was an invitation for their input by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Sierra Leone and the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone. Inference from this means their contribution is vital for national development thus giving credence to any report they make as valuable contributors and not necessarily intruders of our society. The EU’s report could never be one-sided given the composition of observers. There were some 104 observers, drawn from 26 EU Member States including Canada and Norway. Those observers come with a wealth of experience and intent on contributing to democratic growth. Given their timely deployment and stance, the report and its recommendations read in its entirety damning, explanatory, and prescriptive without abject injection of control in Sierra Leone’s local politics by virtue of the role of the EU’s EOM. In this sense, therefore, the report should be looked at as a mirror reflecting activities during the electioneering process and an instrument for local dialogue, redress, ratifications, amendments and improvement in future election practices.
In all the recommendations presented by the EU, the report borders on credibility, an open and competitive approach to politics, respect for the rule of law, campaign financing, and institutional sanctity during elections without undue influence over other competitors. The report went further in exposing the dangers of using state institutions and resources for campaigns including attempts to reduce freedom of expression, which is inherent of recent laws passed in parliament by definitions. Definitions of recent laws as opined by the EOM report, may be seen as state censorship by some members of the society though interwoven in our laws thus resulting in the suppression of condescending or opposing views.
Suffocating divergent views in politics may be seen in most open societies as a means to suffocate democracy and potentially get rid of multi-party approach to politics thus carrying the potential to undermine democratic values and variant views within societies known to be the very essence of democracy. At this point, there is a call to reflect on our electoral practices as rightly mentioned by the EU’s EOM report. These reforms in our opinion will not only be directed at the electoral body but the very constitution of Sierra Leone.
Key areas for consideration would be the protection of political candidature, legal and criminal proceedings during elections, and the power of the Attorney General and Chief Justice on matters regarding elections, political supporters and candidates. There is huge political interference and influence on the judiciary and the director of public prosecutor when an incumbent politician inflicts violence on independent candidates and opposition parties based on legal provisions in the law. Those provisions protect such persons in specified political positions and may be used as an excuse to intimidate persons with differing political views because those judicial appointments are directly linked to the incumbent government. We, therefore, suggest an open and democratic approach in appointing leaders within the judiciary and key security parastatals by their peers instead of the outright political fixtures as it is currently done. That is constitutional review and amendments. Until that changes, the EU report will be another shelved document used only as a point of reference and not as an instrument for change and operational reform. When these are not followed through, the EU’s subsequent EOM will recycle in different wordings the same recommendations year in and year out in the country’s electoral calendar. Understandably, the EU’s EOM role tarries at observations and recommendations. The EU cannot do this for us. We must be truthful to ourselves. We should be ready to make that change and take the path of societal and electoral reformation.
On the flip side, the positives were capturing the inclusion of women in politics through legal reforms and frameworks though it did not reflect in large proportions amongst parties in practice. However, it is a starting point and a big shift from where we are at as a nation with women in politics.
In our submission, how we progress and see the report is dependent on how much we are prepared as a nation to embrace change in the realities of our current political dispensation. This may directly relate to individuals, parties, independent candidates and state institutions. We must extend the olive branch irrespective of the divergent ideas and be ready for a conciliatory and conciliary approach.
EU’s preliminary Report link