By Foday Moriba Conteh
During a well-attended one-day National CSOs Consultation Meeting geared towards finding a pathway to de-escalate political tension in the country organized by Fambul Tok in partnership with the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL-SL) on Tuesday 20th June, 2023 at the Hub Hotel on Wilberforce in Freetown, the under-mentioned Civil Society Organisations in Sierra Leone urged Political Actors to deescalate political tension & demonstrate commitment to Peaceful Elections.
Speaking during the ceremony, the Executive Director of Fambul Tok, John Caulker said that they are gravely concerned about the rising political tension ahead of the country’s multi-tier elections on 24th June 2023 as well as the questions raised about the professionalism of the Electoral Commission.
He maintained that the objective of the National CSOs consultation is to foster a constructive and respectful environment to address political tension and promote peaceful engagement in the upcoming elections.
Head of Programs at Center for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL-SL), Jeremy B. Simbo described the National CSOs consultation as very important towards finding a pathway to deescalate political tension in the country.
He said that as the country heads for its 5th post-war election in its democratic milestone that is making the country an example of a working democracy in the region and that despite that success, politically orchestrated divisions and hate continue to fuel tension in the country.
Jeremy B. Simbo, however, noted that after the national CSOs consultation meeting, representatives from various organizations present will in return go to their communities in order to engage in meaningful dialogue in order to deescalate political tension in their communities.
Reading the press statement on behalf of the CSOs, the National Coordinator Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy, Jarrai Barrie, said as CSOs they now see genuine fears on all sides that losing an election can amount to losing everything including economic opportunities and rights of supporters but said unfortunately, this fear has implications for the work of Election Management Bodies and is making acceptance of election results very difficult.
She noted that considering these challenges, CSOs proposed the following suggestions to EMBs, Government agencies, political parties, local and international election observers, and civil society to help calm tension and increase confidence in the electoral process:
Firstly, that as CSOs they are alarmed by recent incidents of politically motivated violence in some parts of the country, and accordingly urge the Sierra Leone Police to respect the rights of citizens and fairly investigate every complaint of violence with the view to bringing the perpetrators to justice, regardless of their status or political affiliation. They pleaded particularly with young people to abstain from violence and continue to engage with the electoral process constructively.
Secondly, political actors should ensure that demands on the Electoral Commission should be framed within the confines of our laws and international best practices.
She said they noted the recent concerns expressed by the Presidential candidate of the All People’s Congress (APC) regarding the management of the electoral process.
Unfortunately, they learnt that some of the concerns and demands are either outside the powers of the Electoral Commission or are unsupported by the 1991 Constitution, national electoral laws, and international best practices.
According to them, the Electoral Commission, for example, can do nothing about the proportional representation system since the matter has already been litigated and decided by the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone.
Further, it would be plainly unconstitutional to replace the current Board of Electoral Commissioners with an international electoral team few days to the elections.
She said as CSOs they are calling on political parties, local and international observers to see acceptance of election results as a critical democratic norm Sierra Leone should embrace and that since 2007, no losing Presidential candidate has gracefully accepted the outcome of an election without questioning the accuracy of the results or the fairness of the process.
While there could be merit in some of the petitions, outright rejection of election results without any proof of gross irregularities that undermine the outcome of election defeats the core principle of competitive democratic election, according to the CSOs.
The CSOs urged political parties to continue to utilize the Political Parties Liaison Committee to discuss, clarify and address burning issues and to respect the spirit and outcome of those discussions as well as the country’s electoral laws and international best practices in the interest of a peaceful, free and fair electoral process.
The CSOs concluded by urging political parties to tone down the rhetoric, conduct peaceful campaigns but more importantly demonstrate vigilance on polling day to support the integrity of the process.