How the EU report damns the Bio administration?

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By Ishmael Dumbuya

The EU’s final report on the June 24th Election has proven to be an embarrassment to the Bio-led administration. Whilst the report does not call for a re-run of the elections, however, it does not portray a good image of the Bio administration and the June 24th elections.

The report was presented to pressmen on Tuesday 10th October at the Raddison Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel, Aberdeen by the EU-EOM Chief Observer Evin Incir, who is also a Member of the European Parliament from Sweden, accompanied by the Head of the European Union Delegation in Sierra Leone – Ambassador Manuel Müller.

Delivering the report, the Chief Observer said: “We look forward to building on the cooperation. The main focus of the report is to address issues of transparency and accountability in the electoral processes.”

In response to the report, President Bio said he had had similar issue as a presidential candidate in 2021 but noted that he went to court after the elections. “In 2007, the Electoral Commission, cancelled ballot boxes and announced the result when it did not have the mandate by law to do so,” he said.

Since the announcement of the election results in July, the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC)  has refused to engage with President Bio and the ruling SLPP. Elected APC MPs are boycotting parliament and calling for a re-run of the elections.

The US government and various international election observers have condemned the election results, referring to it as lacking credibility and transparency.

So now let’s look at the provisions of the EU EOM final report about the election

In its executive summary, the report concludes: “The recently revised legal framework gave hope for enhanced integrity in the conduct of the elections and greater gender parity in politics. However, voters’ trust in the credibility of elections was undermined by lack of transparency during critical stages of the process, particularly during the tabulation process, and by significant statistical inconsistencies in the results.

The report further indicates that “An independent citizen observer group who voiced concerns was threatened and its leadership had to flee the country, which is indicative to democratic backsliding.

“Counting of the ballots was largely transparent, yet the planned electronic transmission of results from polling stations did not take place. However, a lack of sufficient explanation and action by the Election Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL) made stakeholders perturbed.”

According to the report, tabulation and announcement of results proved to be the tipping point for the credibility of the elections.

 The report states that the entire process was opaque, and that meaningful observation was impeded and the declaration of winners was not followed by publication of disaggregated results per polling station.

On 27 June, the ECSL declared Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP) elected for a second term, passing the constitutional threshold of 55 per cent in the first round by 1.17 percentages.

“Following the declaration of the results of the parliamentary elections a few days later, it was clear that result totals published by the ECSL showed several statistical inconsistencies and mathematical improbabilities. These included notable discrepancies in the number of average valid votes per polling station between the first and second batch of presidential results, varying from a decrease of 75 per cent to an increase of 31 per cent per district; a difference of up to 23 percentage points per district between the turnout for the presidential and parliamentary elections, with some districts registering substantially lower parliamentary turnouts and others showing significantly lower presidential turnouts; turnout above 90 per cent in five districts; and only 0.4 per cent of invalid votes nation-wide.”

The report went on to state that Political violence in weeks before the polls disrupted the playing field in at least six districts. The EU EOM crosschecked and confirmed reports on at least 17 violent attacks, which negatively affected the campaign environment nation-wide. Most assaults of party supporters and attacks on party offices or private properties of politicians went unpunished. It shrank the space for political participation in the south and south-east.

“Political activism was also discouraged through a demonstrative and disproportionate use of force by security agencies prior to, during and after election day. Live ammunition and tear gas was fired outside the main opposition party’s headquarters in Freetown twice (three days prior to and then one day after the elections). In each case one person was killed.Most stakeholders had low trust in law enforcement bodies due to alleged biased behaviour. Abuse of incumbency was another factor that distorted the playing field. Active participation of government ministers in rallies, alongside extensive campaign messaging on official government websites and social media accounts effectively blurred the line between governing and campaigning. The public TV’s favourable coverage of the SLPP was another example of incumbency advantage.”

The following are some of the recommendations made

The EU EOM offered 21 recommendations for improving the way elections are organised, managed, and conducted and for upholding regional and international commitments. There are seven priority recommendations:

1. Publish the final voter register per polling station and per polling center in a timely manner and allow voters to verify and correct all their details.
2. The ECSL to establish and publish detailed procedures for the tabulation and announcement of results, as well as put in place a robust, transparent, and easily verifiable results’ processing system well ahead of elections.
3. Publish on the ECSL website comprehensive election results data by polling station, including results per candidate and per party, the number of registered voters and of valid and invalid votes, in a timely manner and in an easily trackable and downloadable database format.
4. Ensure safety and security for all candidates through a timely conclusion of investigations, holding perpetrators of violence accountable, and enabling the PPRC to act effectively upon violations of campaign rules.
5. Ensure enforcement of legal restrictions on the misuse of state resources and explicitly prohibit the use of official functions, as well as government websites and social media accounts for campaign purposes.
6. Ensure transparency in campaign finance by introducing caps for campaign revenues and expenses and clear rules of reporting and public disclosure before, during, and after the elections, including by the media, and by implementing robust sanctions for noncompliance.
7. Protect freedom of expression by clearly aligning the definitions of “cyber-terrorism”, “cyber-stalking”, “cyber-bullying” and “incendiary information” with relevant regional and international standards.

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