By Amin Kef (Ranger)
A joint press conference was convened on Monday 26th June 2023 in Freetown, Sierra Leone at the Bintumani Conference Center by the Commonwealth, Economic Commission of West Africa (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU).
Representatives of the three international organizations were the Chairperson, Commonwealth Election Observer Mission to Sierra Leone, H.E Prof. Yemi Osinbajo; former Vice President of Nigeria, H.E Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Head of ECOWAS Election Observer Mission to Sierra Leone and Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, H. E. Hailemariam Desalegn.
In his statement, H.E Prof Yemi Osinbajo intimated that: “We were impressed by the significant turn-out of voters and the largely peaceful conduct of elections, a testimony to the will of the people to consolidate the democratic gains of Sierra Leone.”
He maintained that the Commonwealth is honoured to have been invited by the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone to observe the elections furthering how the Commonwealth family continues to stand in solidarity with Sierra Leone, noting that the elections are the first to be held against a background of some significant changes, including, among others, the introduction of the District Block Proportional Representation System, gender quotas for nomination of candidates, and a shortened period in which election petitions should be resolved.
H.E Prof Yemi Osinbajo stated that on 22nd June, they deployed their teams across the country to observe the electoral environment to gain a comprehensive picture of pre-election day preparations.
“Prior to our deployment to the regions, we were briefed in Freetown by various stakeholders, including the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone; presidential and mayoral candidates and representatives of political parties; media professionals; the Independent Media Commission; youth organizations; women forums; representatives of persons with disabilities; security agencies; Commonwealth High Commissioners; the Judiciary; the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone; the Sierra Leone Bar Association; the Chamber of Commerce; the Sierra Leone Labour Congress; and various civil society organizations. We also established working relationships and exchanged information with other international observers as well as local citizen observer groups,” he noted.
He revealed that among their key findings while they commend the ECSL for managing a largely peaceful election day; they noted reported challenges with respect to communication, transparency and the level of trust in the electoral commission and other key state institutions which is key to the electoral process, such as the Judiciary.
He lamented, however,that unfortunately there were isolated critical incidents, including reported skirmishes, police arrests, attack on polling officials and political party agents and harassment of police officers.
On the part of H.E Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Head of ECOWAS Election Observer Mission to Sierra Leone, he pointed out amongst his recommendations that, “the purpose of the ECOWAS-African Union pre-electoral fact-finding mission was to assess the state of preparedness of the election management body and other critical stakeholders”.
In his recommendations, H.E Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas maintained that, “the mission however expresses regret that major political parties pre-empted the ECSL by rushing to announce their “victory” in the polls before the official announcement by the ECSL.” He added that the elections were competitive.
In a similar fashion, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, H. E. Hailemariam Desalegn, in his recommendations after observing Sierra Leone’s 24th June, 2023 multi-tier elections, noted that, “the Government should put in place measures to ensure the peace and stability of the country to safeguard the security of citizens. He added that the ECSL should adopt continuous improvement and transparency in engaging stakeholders to avoid mistrust and enhance confidence in the electoral process.
Furthermore in his recommendations, he stated that, the ECSL should also provide the gazetted list of candidates before official campaigns to allow them sufficient time to campaign.
He made several other recommendations in addition to “political parties should refrain from violence, hate speech and any other acts that could undermine the stability of the country.”