By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
The Civil Society Working Group on Elections and Human Rights in Sierra Leone, has urged security forces not to over securitized electioneering process so as to avoid unnecessary fear and apprehension by the electorate there by resulting to voter apathy.
The group of thirty (30) civil society organisations made this call as part of recommendations in their report of the recently concluded parliamentary re-run Bye election in constituency 110 west of the capital, Freetown.
The report stated that there was an outright case of voter apathy across the constituency accounting for less than 50% turnout of the electorate in the said constituency adding that in almost all of the voting centres observed by the Working Group, the electoral turnout was very low.
“That though the security forces displayed a high sense of professionalism in their manning of polling centres, there was however an outright over securitization of the electoral process which in some ways created fear among the voting population. It is therefore safe to conclude that the election was not free from fear,’’ the group said.
The group added that as part of the other challenges they observed was that there were allegations of “vote merchandise” in some polling stations where the Working Group witnessed chaotic scenes at Sengbeh Pieh Secondary School and Hamilton at Polling Centre 1588 which had to do with some voters caught taking snapshots of their voting slips for a consideration of fifty thousand Leones (Le 50,000).
“When apprehended by the police, some of them confessed to have been sent by political stalwarts to do the said act. This was the case in other polling centres though not on a wide scale,’’ the report noted.
The report further noted that a number of unaccredited government officials using vehicles with no number plates bulldozed their way into some voting centres/stations particularly in Kent and Number 2 communities adding that some of our observers were subjected to verbal attacks by overzealous party stalwarts as a result of our vigilance and robust monitoring of the election.
“That some of the polling centres visited were not disabled friendly. Thus, accessibility for Persons with Disabilities was a huge challenge. That the voting process at the Kallon Field polling centre stopped at some point in the early hours of voting due to the downpour of rain. This was as a result of the make shift structures that were constructed for the voting process,’’ the Civil society working Group on elections and Human Rights report further noted.
The CSO’s however urged that they and media institutions be provided with the necessary resources and accreditations by NEC so as to enable them monitor the conduct of public elections nation-wide.
“The Civil Society Working Group on Elections and Human Rights registers its profound thanks and appreciation to the government of Sierra Leone, NEC, election management bodies, the Sierra Leone Police, political parties, civil society organizations, the media and the entire electorate at constituency 110 for the smooth and successful conduct of the parliamentary rerun election In sum, while it is apparently clear that the election at constituency 110 could be said to be free and fair, it is however our candid opinion as a WORKING GROUP that the said election was not free from fear. Hence, the low voter turnout’’.