By Abubakarr Harding
In a 23rd March,2023 Press Release issued by the All People’s Congress (APC) Party signed by the National Secretary General of the Party, Lansana Dumbuya Esq, it was highlighted that as we get closer to the 24th June 2023 Local Council, General and Presidential Elections, the need for closer collaboration on elections management matters and confidence building becomes imperative.
Further stated was that inclusive and robust elections management is key in delivering free, fair and credible elections acceptable to all sides in any democracy adding that due to recent policy pronouncements by ECSL and experience gained in taking part in by-elections in the past five years, the APC has deemed it necessary to take stock of the issues that are the building blocks of a credible and water tight electoral management system for the 24th June 2023 Elections.
The APC pointed out that of note are the tallying procedures, the disaggregated voter registration figures at polling centers, voter identity card distribution, electoral data management protocols and the sharing of information by ECSL.
According to the Party, they have been informed by their representatives to the Political Parties Liaison Committee (PPLC) that at the last PPLC meeting the Commission made a policy statement that tallying of votes for the Presidential Election will only take place at regional level.
The APC said it is very much concerned by that statement as it runs contrary to the provision of the extant electoral law as contained in the Public Elections Act 2022.
Quoting Section 51 , the Party said it thereof provides that “valid votes cast will be counted polling station by polling station and the certified result of the counting shall be transmitted to the District Returning Officer who will in turn certify the result and transmit same to the Regional Returning Officer who shall again certify and transmit same to the National Returning Officer”.
The APC argues that it is impossible for the District Returning Officer to certify the result of the total votes cast at polling stations in a District and transmit same to the Regional Returning Officer without any form of tallying taking place.
It stated that if that is the policy the Commission intends to adopt, then it will be tantamount to laying the foundation for massive electoral malpractice.
The APC reiterated its concern over what it terms a seeming infringement of the law saying they have requested to the Commission that it clarifies in no uncertain terms the policy it intends to adopt in respect of tallying and transmission of results of votes cast from polling stations to the district and up the chain to national level.
Strongly stated was that the Party will reject and resist any attempt to short-cut legally laid down procedures and protocols in the management of the 2023 Elections.
The Party further pointed out that the ECSL, after registration of voters, only published final voter registration figures at national, regional and district levels and failed to publish disaggregated voter registration figures at polling center level.
“We are therefore requesting that the voter registration figures at polling center level be published immediately not only because transparency and credible elections management demands that, but because it is necessary in aiding the APC’s election preparedness,” the Party stated in the Press Release.
It continued how also, it is the case that ECSL acted alone and somewhat in secrecy, in awarding the contract for the printing of voter identity cards in this electoral cycle.
The Party maintained how in 2012 and 2017, the process was inclusive where political parties and Civil Society Organizations were not only involved in the procurement of a vendor but also monitored the printing exercise, courier and distribution process of the cards.
The APC lamented that those transparency and confidence building measures were ostensibly omitted by ECSL in the current electoral cycle.
It said, given that as per the ECSL’s last update, the voter identification cards have not been couriered into Sierra Leone, the APC said it demands that the ECSL discloses to them who the contractor is and when the voter identity cards are arriving in Sierra Leone as they intend monitoring the card distribution process starting from when the cards arrive in Sierra Leone, their storage and distribution.
According to the Party, those clarifications and demands have been made in line with the Party’s commitment to ensure they have non – violent, democratic and fair elections process and outcome.
The Party disclosed that on another note, they have formally complained and brought to the attention of the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) certain incendiary statements and falsities uttered by Madam Fatima Bio, the First Lady of Sierra Leone, while she was campaigning for the SLPP in Kailahun District on the 19th of March 2023.
It stated that in a video and audio clip being shared widely on social media, the First Lady uttered, amongst many other things, that the APC did not conduct elections during their National Delegates Conference (NDC) but rather did a selection of National Officers, that all their National Officers with the exception of two are from villages along Kamakwie Road, that former President Koroma had stated that Kono does not ‘matter’ (is irrelevant), that Former President Koroma has said that he has made sure that the East is not part of the APC, that our entire National Executive consists of only Lokos and Limbas, and most dangerously that APC should not be allowed to have party offices in the East.
The Party claims that those statements are not only false but irresponsible and incendiary saying it is open knowledge, with evidence abounding that elections were conducted during their NDC, that their National Executive does not consist only of people along Kamakwie Road, that Former President Koroma never made a statement about the irrelevance of Kono or the East especially considering how much development he took to the East during his presidency, and that not only Lokos and Limbas constitute their Executive.
Again quoting Section 39 (1) of the Political Parties Act 2022, the APC said it provides that, “A political party, including its members, supporters, candidates and operatives shall not be involved in the use of incendiary and inciting statements, including hate speech against political opponents”.
The APC said categorically, a statement that they should not be allowed to have offices in the East is MOST DANGEROUS and inciting and exposes their Party, its property, membership and supporters in the East to hate, possible attacks and destruction.
Drawing the PPRC’s attention to a recent fine the Commission imposed on their Party, citing the same provision of the law for statements or chants made by certain persons in the presence of their National Leader, for whom there is no evidence that they are known operatives or members of their Party yet still the Commission proceeded, of its own volition, to fall heavily on them, even though the Party through its leadership issued prior statements for people to desist from making incendiary comments.
The APC pointed out that they waited several days to see what action the Commission would take regarding the utterances of the First Lady, especially so considering how the Commission was proactive in calling them to book when unknown people purported to be their supporters made less incendiary statements, but up till now they have not heard or seen anything from the Commission.
“We have admired the Commission Chairman’s leadership and enjoyed his professional collaboration and expect his dispassionate consideration of this complain,” the APC stated adding how they believe that what is good for the goose, must be good for the gander.