‘Presidential election date unconstitutional’

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…NEW demands explanation

February 16, 2017 By Mohamed Massaquoi

The National Election Watch ( NEW) has said that despite applauding the announcement of 7th March, 2018 as the date for local council and parliamentary elections by President Ernest Bai Koroma in his address to the nation and subsequent proclamation of presidential election on the same date by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) on 14th February, 2017, they were concerned about the constitutionality of the decision taken by the president, thus calling on the Chief Electoral Commissioner for an explanation.

NEW made the demand at a press conference held yesterday at their headquarters in Freetown, where the organisation’s chairperson, Mrs.
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Marcella Samba-Sesay said both announcement of the date were tools for democratic accountability and renewal.

She, however, noted that the press statement on the announcement of date for presidential election by the Chief Electoral Commissioner exceeded the 90 day period stipulated by the Public Elections Act 2012, section 43, subsection 3(b)  of which states that: “in any other case, the Electoral Commission may in the proclamation referred to in subsection (2) fix the actual date of the election, the date not been earlier than thirty days and not later than sixty days before the date appointed for voting in elections.”

She said: “NEW is therefore calling on NEC, mandated by the Constitution, to explain to the citizens why the extension of the date for presidential elections beyond the 23rd February 2018. Furthermore, the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, Section II, Article 2, Subsection 2 on Elections states ‘all the elections shall be organised on the dates or at periods fixed by the constitution or the electoral laws.’’

She continued that “the registration of voters, update and revision of the voters register shall be conducted not later than six months before an election or referendum, as the case may be. NEW sees this as not feasible to be accommodated in an already tight elections calendar and therefore, recommends deferring the conduct of the referendum after 2018 electoral cycle,” she said.

She added that they acknowledged and endorsed the caution given by the President on campaigning, which, however, has been going on by political parties and individuals, and called on NEC and the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) to ensure compliance with the rules on campaigning.

It could be recalled that NEW had urged NEC and the office of the president to release a specific date for the conduct of the 2018 general elections on the grounds that mechanisms needed to be put in place for proper monitoring of the process.

“NEW is concerned that the undue delay in stating the actual election date does not create a level playing field in the electoral arena. We are concerned that the electoral calendar is under potential threat of not being respected due to government’s current engagement with re- districting,” the civil society outfit on election noted.

Political party leaders also joined the debate for the president and NEC to do  same. In his annual Christmas and New Year Message to the Nation, flagbearer aspirant of the main opposition SLPP, Brig. (Rtd.) Julius Maada Bio, called on NEC “to declare, without further delay, the specific date that the Presidential and Parliamentary elections will be conducted in February, 2018”.

He continued: “I would like to remind the Chief Electoral Commissioner and the President, both of whom have an obligation by law to hold consultation in setting the date for the elections…That any further delay will begin to undermine the credibility of the electoral process for the February 2018 elections.”

The electoral process started since last year when the National Electoral Commission in collaboration with stakeholders participated in the demarcation of Constituency and Ward Boundaries in preparation for the conduct of Local Government, Parliamentary and Presidential Elections in Sierra Leone in 2018.