February 22, 2017 By Patrick Jaiah Kamara
The Nation Election Watch (NEW) has expressed dissatisfaction over the tensions that erupted in and around the polling centres at the just concluded by-election in Constituency 066, Tonkolili district, where the All Peoples Congress candidate, Rosemarie Bangura, emerged winner.
In a press statement issued yesterday, NEW stated that the tensions in those polling centres were as a result of the presence of politicians of both the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), and government officials parading the polling environs with their official vehicles in absolute contravention of Public Elections Act 2012, which, they said stipulates that only accredited persons have right to be in that environment.
“Before the closure of polls, tensions were mounting in some parts of Bumbuna Township, resulting to violence where two vehicles chased the vehicle of a politician. At Manikalia Street, youth assaulted a female party agent and threw her in the gutter, but was later rescued by the police. NEW is seriously concerned about the level of violence still taking place during Bye elections and wish to call on the police that this is happening with impunity. NEW wishes to make it abundantly clear to the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) that they will be held accountable for their failure to respond to such matters,” the release stated.
NEW also raised serious apprehension on the issue of secrecy of the votes, since NEC failed to provide voter screens in almost all the 90 polling stations across the constituency, which posed serious challenge for voters to cast their votes secretly.
According to them, NEC substituted a file folder for voter screen which they claimed endangered the secrecy of voting and gave confidence to some polling staff to interfere with the voting process especially, Presiding Officers talking to voters whilst they were about to cast their ballots.
The release stated that NEC staff-both full and part-time should exhibit professionalism at all times in the conduct of Elections to guarantee public confidence.
The release further stated that polling stations were opened on time but noted that there was a low voter turnout, mostly associated with low voter education and voter apathy, thus calling on NEC to put more efforts in voter education for future by-elections.
NEW, which deployed 31 observers in Tonkolili district, is a coalition of local and international organisations in Sierra Leone with a common objective of supporting free and fair elections.