By Abubakarr Harding
President Dr Julius Maada Bio on Thursday 21st July, 2022 received the annual report 2021 from the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone saying the institution operates freely and independently in the fourth most peaceful country in Africa.
“A cursory look at the history of elections in Sierra Leone would highlight elite domination of politics – a mindset where a party uses a toxic blend of divisive rhetoric, misinformation, and unleashes violence – that is orchestrated and controlled by a few key players – on the voting public.
“While some parties have never used that approach; some parties have probably significantly intensified its use. They would rather not present and debate alternative policies and positions and engage citizens in peaceful ways about why their positions and perspectives are better. Our position as a Government has been that there is a better way,” he said.
President Bio emphasized that his Government had and would never interfere with the work of civil society organizations and rights activists who continued to operate freely within the ambits of the law, adding that they had observed elections freely and generated and discussed post-election reports freely on all media platforms.
“My Government remains fully committed to supporting peaceful, free, fair, and credible electoral processes. Dates for the parliamentary and local council elections have been declared at least fifteen months to election day. We have also proposed fixed dates for elections and other such reforms that will enhance the quality of elections and the governance space. The Chief Electoral Commissioner has also declared dates for Presidential elections in accordance with his mandate,” he reiterated.
He added that there was also greater access to justice where citizens could get redress from the courts on petitions and elections-related matters. He cited as important the establishment of the National Commission for Peace and National Cohesion and the fact that there was greater engagement of traditional and religious leaders in tamping down tensions within and between communities.
In his statement, Chief Electoral Commissioner, Mohammed Kenewui Konneh, said the Commission’s report had focused on the achievements in 2021 and planning processes in readiness for 2023 multi-tier elections within the context of the current trends of best practices in elections.
He further stated that despite the global and local social restrictions, largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they were able to keep to their commitment of conducting successful by-elections and paramount chieftaincy elections across the country in 2021. He added that they also undertook quite a remarkable transformation within the calendar year in terms of development of communication policy and strategy, review of human resource policies, including standing orders and improvement in staff motivation.
“I was very mindful about election conflicts when I assumed office based on experiences from previous elections,” he said, disclosing that that was why they had established elections conflict prevention and mediation groups and that the initiative had been effective and productive in all bye elections.
The Chief Electoral Commissioner also went on to state that they had made commitments to demonstrate inclusion in the electoral process and to set up a department with the objective of increasing participation of women and persons with disability.
He concluded by seeking the support of the Government, the people of Sierra Leone and multilateral partners to be able to continue to build on their credentials of conducting free, fair and credible elections in Sierra Leone, including the 2023 elections.