By Lawrence Williams
In his recent State of the Nation Address, President Julius Maada Bio unveiled plans to establish a National Electoral Systems Review Committee (NESRC). The committee, he said, will assess the planning and management of the 2023 electoral cycle. Applause for this initiative has been tremendous. Therefore, it is necessary to critically examine the government’s decision to establish the NESRC, highlighting its significance and potential impact on Sierra Leone’s electoral processes.
The 2023 elections were conducted in a largely peaceful atmosphere with few logistical delays with the distribution of voting materials some centres, according to observers. But more seriously is the fact that the outcome of both presidential and parliamentary elections has been rejected outright by the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) citing irregularities and claiming that the results were skewed to favour the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP). Several international observer groups said there was a lack of transparency in the result tabulation process, suggesting that the outcome could not reflect the popular will of voters. On the one hand, this observation has strengthened the APC belief that their victory was stolen, but on the other hand increased the level of polarisation in the country, as the APC not only refused to accept the election outcome but also refused to participate in any governance activity going forward.
Recognizing the implications of a disputed election outcome and the need to foster unity and ensure transparent, inclusive, and fair electoral processes going forward, President Bio has taken the bold step to form the NESRC. This committee will play a crucial role in examining and reviewing various aspects of the 2023 electoral cycle. This will enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of future elections.
Objectives of the NESRC
The primary objective of the National Electoral Systems Review Committee is to assess the planning and management of the 2023 electoral cycle. Specifically, the NESRC will review the prevailing legal framework, related institutional and operational arrangements, and local and international observer missions’ reports, and propose key reforms for institutionalising the recommendations to enhance the operations of the entire electoral architecture in Sierra Leone. By conducting a comprehensive review, the committee will be able to identify any existing shortcomings, vulnerabilities, or areas that require improvement within the electoral cycle. The NESRC will also propose recommendations and reforms to enhance electoral transparency, credibility, and inclusivity.
Composition of the NESRC
The NESRC will comprise a diverse group of experts, professionals, and stakeholders with a deep understanding of electoral systems and processes. These individuals will bring their expertise and experience to ensure a comprehensive evaluation of Sierra Leone’s electoral framework. President Bio said the committee will consist of the government, development partners, civil society and professional organisations. The NESRC, he said, will be led by the Honourable Vice President and supported by an ad-hoc technical secretariat. All these stakeholders will work together in fostering a collaborative approach towards electoral reform.
Scope of the Review
The NESRC review will encompass various aspects of the electoral architecture to achieve its objectives. However, there are concerns that the NESCRC’s scope is limited because it does not include investigating the conduct and outcome of the just concluded elections. Some schools of thought are of the view that the NESRC should further look into the conduct and outcome of the June 24 elections with the view to determine whether there were significant irregularities that materially affected the credibility of the official results announced by the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone; including voter registration, campaign financing, and the overall electoral environment. By examining these critical components, the committee will be able to identify areas that need improvement. It will also streamline processes, address loopholes, and strengthen the overall integrity of the country’s electoral system.
The establishment of the NESRC demonstrates the government’s commitment to free, fair, and credible elections in Sierra Leone. The committee’s findings and recommendations will serve as a valuable resource for electoral reform. They will guide the government in implementing necessary changes to enhance electoral processes. By addressing any identified shortcomings, the NESRC can bolster public trust and confidence in the electoral system. This will foster a more inclusive and participatory democracy.
The government’s decision to establish the National Electoral Systems Review Committee signifies a proactive approach towards improving the planning and management of the next electoral cycle. Through a comprehensive evaluation of the 2023 electoral cycle, the NESRC will identify areas of improvement and propose reforms that will enhance transparency, credibility, and inclusivity. This initiative reflects the government’s dedication to fostering a robust electoral framework and promoting the integrity of democratic processes in Sierra Leone.