Your Excellency, it is with a pained heart and broken spirit that I write to raise a concern about what impact the current trend of heightened and unprecedented election violence might have on our democracy, good governance and the rule of law.
As Your Excellency may be aware that on Saturday 24th August, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) conducted a re-run Parliamentary bye-election in Constituency 110 pursuant to a court order dated 31st May 2019.
The electoral climate preceding the election had been marred by violence as evidenced in the July 29 incident at Hamilton.
During the conduct of the said bye-election on Saturday August 24, the police, joined by their military counterparts, deployed about 300 personnel to provide security coverage for the entire election.
Media coverage by Africa Young Voices (AYV) showed that the polls started on time and the election went on peacefully in all the polling centres but one: the Sulpon Community Primary School (Centre Code 15074) where voting was temporarily suspended due to issues with the Voters Register of SLPP agents in polling stations 6, 7 and 9. This issue was addressed by the NEC much to the satisfaction of all players and voting resumed in a peaceful manner.
Your Excellency, very close to the end of the polls, violence erupted in Polling Centre 15086 – Sarah Modern Preparatory School. During the course of the violence, ballots and other election materials were destroyed. On this note, Your Excellency, the NEC in their Press Statement of Sunday 25th August, 2019, cancelled the entire election result.
Who are behind the attack?
Your Excellency at this juncture you may want to know some of the alleged perpetrators behind such a heinous crime.
The National Elections Watch (NEW), undisputedly the most credible election observer group in Sierra Leone, stated in their Press Statement of Monday August 26, that: “A man who NEW cannot recognize and who throughout the day was being consulted by the SLPP party agents in the centre ordered voting to stop and started the destruction of ballot boxes and election materials after which a group of men rushed into the polling stations destroying ballot boxes and other election materials.”
NEW went further to identify a vehicle whose owner and those on board may be linked to the violence. “A black RAV4 vehicle with no number plate but with an inscription ‘CEO of Soja Team Paopa’ with the SLPP logo was plying the elections centres vicinities.
Furthermore, video evidence seen on social media portrayed the destruction of ballots and other election materials were choreographed by your ruling party operatives much to the chagrin of voters, election observers and the international community. Added to that, the presence of the Honourable Minister of Transport and Aviation at the scene made the whole incident looked like a state-sanctioned attack on our democracy; and a deliberate attempt by the ruling party operatives to subvert a fundamental human right of the electorates of Constituency 110.
Your Excellency, the decision by NEC to cancel the entire election result has provoked outrage and widespread agitation among the citizenry who are apprehensive that such a decision runs contrary to the principles of equity and justice.
Following their cancellation of the results, a civil society group called Legal Link enquired from NEC to show the “extant” law that supports their cancellation of the result to which the NEC retorted.
NEC’s reply to this very important legal question did not find comfort in the eyes of the people.
Section 36 of the 1991 Constitution ensured that voting in any public election shall be by secret ballot. The scattering of those ballots exposed the secrecy of ballots as many people would have come to know how and who the people voted for. Also, the Public Elections Act of 2012 makes it an offence for anyone to obstruct, disrupt, interfere or destroy election materials without lawful authority.
Your Excellency, upon assuming office, you declared war against indiscipline and lawlessness. The violence perpetrated by your ruling party operatives should be regarded as the highest form of lawlessness and indiscipline. Your Excellency, to exonerate your good name and reputation as the ‘talk and do’ president that does not condone lawlessness, I recommend that you set up a special investigation panel to, among other things:
- Investigate the circumstances that led to the destruction of ballots boxes and other election materials at Constituency 110 Parliamentary re-run election.
- The complicity and complacency of the police during the violence
- Identify, name and shame perpetrators
- The specific role Minister of Transport and Aviation
Your Excellency, I further recommend that you use your good offices to subject the NEC boss to a medical examination to adjudge his mental competence which is a key requirement for anyone holding such a sensitive office in the land and to conduct an integrity check on NEC and its entire staff.
Journalist and Pro-poor activist, Publisher & Managing Editor, Fritong Post Newspaper.