EU cautions President Bio’s Government

The purpose of EU Election Follow-up Mission is to undertake a technical assessment of the state of implementation of the 29 recommendations made by the EU Election Observation Mission back in 2018. The implementation of these recommendations would enhance the credibility, inclusiveness and transparency of Sierra Leone’s 2023 elections.

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Hon. Norbert Neuser, Chief of Mission & Member of the European Parliament

By Lawrence Williams

A European Union Election Follow-up Mission (EFM) to Sierra Leone has observed a waning public trust in the country’s election management bodies (EMBs). Hon. Norbert Neuser, Chief of EFM and member of the EU Parliament told a news conference in Freetown yesterday that there is a waxing mistrust and confidence in the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), Judiciary and the Sierra Leone Police (SLP). 

He said: “The Mission findings are that these institutions’ reputations are less trusted than is needed. But further, our assessment is that there are real grounds for concern in the ways in which these bodies have administered recent bye-elections.”

Neuser noted that the government has a pivotal role to play in ensuring the independence and neutrality of these institutions if at all our elections would be recognised as credible by citizens and observers. He stressed the need to revive the constitutional review process and to have a fixed date for national elections.

Neuser decried the High Court ruling of May 31 2019 which annulled the election of ten opposition lawmakers and replaced nine of them with the petitioners from the ruling party, in outright violation of section 146 (4) of the Public Elections Act 2012 which states that “if the election is declared void, another election shall be held”.    

He said: “If an election is declared void, according to section 146.4 of the Public Election Act, another election shall be held. The 2019 High Court decisions to declare the runner-up elected in 10 constituencies, eroded confidence in the neutrality of the Judiciary. Unequivocal respect for the rule of law in election petitions is needed to ensure confidence in the electoral process.”

The EFM also repudiated the proposed Mid-Term Census which political pundits say could be used for political gerrymandering. Neuser said this census is unprecedented and unfavourable to the present political atmosphere. 

He said: “The use of an optional census to provide data which might be used to change electoral boundaries shortly before an election is not conducive to the political atmosphere or good electoral practice.”

Nonetheless, the EFM acknowledged the decriminalisation of libel and strengthening of the Independent Media Commission would go a long way to enhance press freedom in the country. He also applauded the government for promulgating the Gender Empowerment Bill in order to ensure women get 30% representation in political and public positions but said the law should be synchronized with political parties’ constitutions.

Hon. Neuser ended with a note of caution to the Julius Maada Bio led government on the excessive use of constitutional powers. He admonished them to exercise restraint in the ‘spirit of democratic compromise’.

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