September 2, 2019
By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
Christian Lawyer Centre, popularly known as LEGAL LINK and Citizens Advocacy Network (CAN ) have informed journalists at a joint press conference that they would bring an action against the National Electoral Commission’s (NEC) over its decision to cancel by-election in Constituency 110.
The group said the cancellation of the result violates the fundamental human rights of thousands of electorates in the said constituency.
In a letter dated 26th August 2019, addressed to Chief Electoral Commissioner of NEC, Mohamed Nfa Alie Conteh, LEGAL LINK requested the Returning Officer to show the extant law that supported his decision to cancel the entire Parliamentary re- run by-election result held on 24th August 2019 at Constituency 110.
NEC on 29th August replied to the letter, stating that LEGAL LINK does not have the locust standi to question the decision of the electoral body or to justify their actions.
“I am in receipt of your letter dated 26th of August 2019, served on the commission on the 28th of August 2019, on the above subject matter. In response to the afore-mentioned letter, I hereby wish to state the following, that your organization, Christian Lawyer Centre, Legal Link, a legal advocacy group lacks the locus standi to question the decision of the Electoral Commission or to justify it action. Your organization is not a stakeholder in the conduct of public election nor in the re-run Parliamentary Election for Constituency 110,’’the letter states.
The letter further states that it is only the High Court of Sierra Leone that is empowered under Section 141 of the Public Elections Act 2012(Act No.4 of 2012) to order during trial of an election petition, the inspection of any counted ballot papers, thus adding that the rights group might seek in the High Court of Sierra Leone.
Meanwhile, LEGAL LINK told journalists that NEC evaded the question put to them and went on to attack the competence of their organization and engaged in what they described as ‘fallacy of Adhominem Argumentum ’.
“Secondly, the insistence of NEC asking for a locus standi to be satisfied before complaints can be addressed by them suggests in clear terms that NEC has now transformed itself into a court of law that requires proof of locus standi before matters could be heard and proceeded with.For the benefit of the public, LOCUS STANDI in law means the right to bring an action, to be heard in court, or to address the Court on a matter before it,” the group said in a statement last Friday.
The group disagreed with NEC on the grounds that there were no procedural rules cited that required LEGAL LINK to have shown locus standi before its questions are answered or complaint addressed by them.
“It is vital to also emphasize that unlike the courts where there are specific rules and case laws that may require an applicant to show locus standi in a matter, NEC is not a judicial body but rather a Commission that superintendents over a public affair-elections to which the highest form of accountability is required at all times,’’he group said.
On the issue of them not being a stakeholder in the conduct of public election as stated by NEC, the group said NEC’s definition of a stakeholder in public elections has been restrictive, conservative and moribund as their institution is a key stakeholder in the conduct of public elections because it is a legally registered civil society organization that defends the rights of vulnerable groups in society.
The group said it is vital for NEC to know CSO plays an integral role in the conduct of public elections the world over as they advocate for free, fair and transparent elections, and demand transparency and accountability from election management bodies.
“Furthermore, I and many other legal volunteers that work at LEGAL LINK are stakeholders because we are taxpayers. Our taxes are part of the funds and disbursements that are often paid to NEC by the Government for the conduct of public elections. Every Tax payer in Sierra Leone is a stakeholder, we humbly submit,’’ the statement adds.
The group added that they have the the right and competence to put their mouths where their monies are hence, their organisation has the requisite locus standi to demand answers from NEC regarding how it conducts public elections that are being paid for by taxpayers monies.
The group further said they are competent to ask NEC questions because the cancellation of the entire election at Constituency 110 concerns a fundamental human rights issue which without doubt, NEC’s action constitutes a direct attack on the right to vote and be voted for as enshrined under the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone.
“This singular illegal act done by NEC has currently disenfranchised thousands of qualified voters in Constituency 110 and since LEGAL LINK defends right issues, including the right to vote and be voted for, such a matter clearly falls within our public interest litigation mandate for which we have competence to advocate for and or bring public interest litigations in court on behalf of affected voters. Our letter sent to NEC was just a first step in our litigation drive,’’ the group noted,
The noted that NEC’s bad precedent in the electoral landscape of Sierra Leone does not only pose threat to the social fabric of the nation, but also present a clear danger to the enjoyment of the rights to vote and be voted for as any government might choose to rely on such precedent in the future to cancel an election.
The two rights groups have not only called on NEC to reverse its decision but also for the resignation of its chief, and that all those individuals identified in the act of violence be arrested and prosecuted.
’We are demanding that all those identified in the acts of electoral violence as evidenced in the video clips making rounds on social media be arrested, investigated and prosecuted accordingly for electoral offences. The Police leadership should take full responsibility and admit that they were complacent in their handling of the entire incident at Constituency 110 on 24th August , 2019,’’the Rights groups recommended.
The cancellation and disruption of the elections in Constituency 110 has received condemnation from various Civil Society Organizations and the International Community, thus urging the electoral body to dialogue with aggrieved political members.