June 14, 2018
By Patrick Jaiah Kamara
The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Sierra Leone has recommended in their final report on the March 7 and 31 Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Council elections that a fixed date be assigned for future presidential elections to ‘avoid unnecessary extensions of mandate’.
“Consider holding regular presidential elections in conjunction with parliamentary elections on a fixed basis to avoid the unnecessary extensions of the presidential mandate,” the report recommends
In the 81-page report, the EU EOM proffered 29 recommendations for future elections. 25 of the recommendations require changes in primary legislation, while nine involve changes in the constitution.
The mission, which deployed the largest number of international observers during the 2018 elections in Sierra Leone, put forward six priority recommendations, including revisiting the conflict in the legal framework governing the registration of voters and clarification as to which institution should be in charge of voter register and a permanent free of charge and constantly updated civil register which would be a basis for the register of voters.
The last voter registration exercise in March and April of 2017 left a lot of tongues wagging as to whether the National Registration Authority or National Electoral Commission should take the lead in the registration of voters. While the then ruling All Peoples Party favoured the former, the erstwhile opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party argued the latter has the constitutional mandate to register voter. In the end, NEC took charge of the process, not without accusations and counter accusations from the two rival parties.
The report also called for a legislative mechanism to increase the number of women in Parliament and Local Councils, thus urging that female candidates shouldn’t be placed in unwinnable seats.
The report further recommended that there should be sufficient financial support to the National Electoral Commission in a timely manner and increase transparency in the income and expenditure of parties and candidates.
Reading a press statement yesterday at the Radisson Blu Hotel, the EU EOM Chief Observer Jean Lambert, who is also a Member of the European Parliament from the United Kingdom, said: “Our recommendations concern all aspects and stages of the electoral process. We believe that if the reforms are successfully implemented, they can help consolidate the rule of law and improve the conduct of the next elections.”
Ms. Lambert added that she was keen to see greater and deeper participation of women in all aspect of political life, which according to her was fundamental human rights in line with Sierra Leone’s regional, Africa and global commitments, and further deepen democracy in the country.
The EU EOM chief noted that their recommendations were based on their observations in 800 polling stations across the country during the two election days, with extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders by the mission’s experts who were in the country for nearly three months.
In addition, the report commended the National Electoral Commission (NEC) for its commitment to transparent and inclusive elections despite the political pressures from parties and state intimidation.
“However, the runoff election was marred by a period of legal uncertainty and divisive discourse fueled by some politicians,” the report stated.
Meanwhile, the mission chief revealed that discussions between the EU EOM and government, NEC, political parties, civil society representatives and other stakeholders would continue in the coming days.