Strengthening Electoral Accountability and Governance (SEAG), a coalition of Civil Society Organisations, which served in an observer capacity during the 2018 Presidential and Parliamentary elections, has just released their report on the 2018 elections.
Speaking to NewsWatch at his Charlotte Street office in Freetown on Monday 19th November, 2018, spokesperson for SEAG, Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai said that SEAG and partners observed the different phases of the Elections and collected data from their coalition members, including the West African Network for Peace building (WANEP), the Women’s Situation Room, and all data collected by all the other observers.
Mr. Saffa said that based on their findings, the elections were generally peaceful, yet there were incidents of violence in certain locations across the country. Additionally, WANEP noted that 60% of the polling stations were described as suitable and 67% of the voting process was satisfactory, with 33% unsatisfactory. According to the National Electoral Commission (NEC), only 0.2% of ballot boxes were problematic due to irregularities.
He added that the issues that SEAG identified include a lack of coordination and miscarriage of duties by the NEC officials; officials failing to mitigate risks and aggravating tensions; a ban on vehicular movement; public officials interfering in the NEC and infringing upon its independence; and the role of security personnel, i.e. the Sierra Leone Police and the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces.
Saffa further affirmed that some polling stations were not conducive for the voting process, adding that some voting centers were cramped and did not provide adequate room for the various stakeholders present, including election observers. He said the system of organizing lines alphabetically by name was not clear to voters at each polling station and that added to voter waiting times.
Mr. Saffa revealed that some NEC officials were observed handling election materials in a manner that is inconsistent with electoral laws, while others were observed issuing unstamped ballot papers or pre-inking ballot papers before issuing them to voters.
Speaking on recommendations made in the SEAG report, Mr. Saffa Abdulai said that future NEC planning and preparations should include: ensuring sufficient voter materials are available, making site visits to polling stations to improve the organization of voting centers, verifying that the voter list matches registration lists, and providing adequate vehicles and transportation services for the timely pick up and drop off of ballot materials from voting stations.
He said the report also recommends that NEC officials should act quickly and diligently in providing election results so as to mitigate the risk of increasing tensions, adding that it is imperative that security forces maintain neutrality and should discontinue involvement in the electoral process following polling.
On the ban of vehicle movement on polling day, Mr Abdulai said that the SEAG report recommends that if the government insists that a vehicle ban is necessary to mitigate violence, adequate transportation should also be provided so as not to adversely affect voter turnout. Additionally, the alphabetizing of names should be done in a way that allows for maximum efficiency.
He said that the government should ensure equal participation for all on the electoral platform and should ensure the rule of law, adding that Electoral offences must be fairly tried, and punishment equally meted on all defaulters, irrespective of partisan affiliation.
“Government should not dictate how state institutions carry out their functions. Rather, the government should allay Sierra Leoneans concerns about state institutions in order to ensure the people’s confidence in these institutions” he said.
In his conclusion, Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai He said that the Strengthening Electoral Accountability and Governance (SEAG) appreciates the coordination of NEC and the various civil society organizations involved in the collection and the analysis of election data, the security personnel, and international observers who provided support to Sierra Leone during this critical election phase, adding that for civil society actors, as well as civil society’s to maintain their credibility on the national platform, they must refuse to be politically defined.
“Civil society should ensure the rights of citizens are not trampled upon and should work with both state and non-state actors to ensure a healthy relationship between the citizens and the state” He concluded.