March 5, 2018
Search for Common Ground (Search) is a member of the Consortium for Electoral Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) with four other international organizations; the International Republican Institute (IRI), National Democratic Institute (NDI), International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and Internews, jointly implementing the Sierra Leone Elections Dialogue Series (SLEDS) project with funding from USAID. The goal is to promote meaningful participation of all citizens in their political systems, including women, youth and other traditionally marginalized groups and to incorporate the comparative advantages of media and technology to promote citizen understanding, engagement and transparent political competition. In preparation for the March 2018 elections, the Sierra Leone Elections Dialogue Series (SLEDS) project is delivered in two broad objectives:
To increase the participation of women and disadvantaged groups in debates and dialogue sessions relating to the March 2018 general elections;
To support increased professionalism of Sierra Leone’s press and mass media coverage of March 2018 general elections.
Search’s specific role is to contribute to Objective 1 by promoting public understanding of key national political, economic and social issues that are directly relevant to democratic governance and the electoral process in Sierra Leone. Since the commencement of the project in December 2017, Search has concluded 45 nationwide lower-level (15 MPs and 30 Ward-level) debates; attracting political parties and political candidates, local stakeholders and communities. Preceding this activity was Citizens Priority Workshops where over 800 women, youth, persons with disability, other marginalized groups and local stakeholders came to town hall meetings and reflect the Citizen’s Manifesto and PWD Agenda – developed by a Consortium of seven civil society organisations led by Search for Common Ground – for more constructive actions by politicians.
Seven political parties – with wider reach – were invited to participate in the debates and each aspirant had the opportunity to put forward his/her political agenda for greater governance and improved accountability. At the Ward level, candidates responded to well thought-out questions/concerns from the audience and independent moderators with proven knowledge and high reputation (through a well-designed questionnaire), presented citizen’s priority questions to the candidates at the Constituency level. The exercise was conducted in Sierra Leone’s lingua franca – Krio, with parallel translation in local languages and covered by the local radio stations of the selected wards/constituencies. Clear rules for audience behaviour established to ensure that the sessions are conducted in a peaceful and orderly manner. Over 2,250 members of the community attended the these candidate debates
Communities are excited with the opportunity to directly engage their political leaders on socio-economic and public policy issues and requested more of these sessions before every general elections are held. Enabling candidates to discuss their political agendas and giving citizens the opportunity to know candidates’ political programs ahead of the elections will not only impact election dynamics but ensure issues-based voting.