Sierra Leone News: CSOs, Political Parties Decry NEC over Cancellation of Results

By Stephen V. Lansana

Thugs destroying ballot boxes and other sensitive election materials towards the closing of polling

The Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Political Parties that contested the bye-election in constituency 110 in Western Area Rural District have on Monday August 26, 2019, lambasted the National Electoral Commission (NEC) for cancelling results of the bye-election held over the weekend.

It could be recalled that following the judgement of the High Court of Sierra Leone dated May 31, 2019, a re-run of parliamentary bye-election was conducted by the NEC in Constituency 110, Western Area Rural District on August 24, 2019, in accordance with the relevant electoral legal framework.

The vacancy occurred as a result of a judgement delivered on the May 31, 2019, in the High Court which ordered that the parliamentary election conducted on 7 March 7, 2018 in Constituency 110 in the Western Area Rural District be declared null and void, and the seat be declared vacant. The court ordered NEC to conduct election not later than three months in the said Constituency from the date of the order.

Four (4) political parties contested the parliamentary re-run election include the All Peoples Congress (APC) party, the National Grand Coalition (NGC) party, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) and the Unity Party (UP).

Unfortunately, NEC said in a statement after the election that during the course of the polls on Saturday, violence erupted in Centre Code 15086 — Sarah Modern Preparatory School, with total registered voters of 2,903 having 10 polling stations. “This led to the destruction of 10 ballot boxes containing used ballot papers; other electoral materials were also destroyed, leading to NEC cancelling the said election,” NEC said in statement on Sunday August 25.

Executive Director of Citizens Advocacy Network (CAN), Thomas Moore Conteh said in a statement that, NEC and its National Returning Officer are not empowered by law to cancel an entire electioneering process on such a ground.

CAN further notes that NEC in its press release dated August 25, 2019, cited sections 33 and 39(1) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, Act №6 1991, and sections 69(1) and 70(1) of the Public Elections Act 2012. CAN wishes to state that the referred sections do not in any way support the decision of NEC.

“Section 87 of the Public Elections Act 2012 states that only in an instance of over voting that a polling station can be nullified and “NOT” an entire election exercise! The provision states thus: “where the votes cast at an election at a polling station exceeds the number of registered voters of that polling station, the result of the election for that polling station shall be declared null and void and another election maybe conducted at a date to be fixed by the Commission,” CAN said.

CAN emphasized that from the express statutory provision, it is clear that the National Returning Officer can only nullify a polling station if found wanting on basis of over voting. This does not extend to all other well-run polling stations.

CAN said that the decision by NEC to cancel over 134 polling centers on allegations of an isolated incident of violence in just one polling center is illegal, absurd, unconscionable and undermines our nascent democracy.

In fact, section 147 of the Public Elections Act 2012 provides that the only competent authority that can nullify an election on grounds of violence is the High Court of the Republic of Sierra Leone. Hence, NEC’s decision is at best a blatant and an ill-advised usurpation of the powers of the High Court.

CAN wishes to remind the NEC and its National Returning Officer that all the provisions cited in above-mentioned press release for nullifying the entire electioneering exercise have no spine to stand the test of time.

“Such unconstitutional and unlawful declaration has the proclivity to plunge the nation into unrest and further waste taxpayers money amidst the protracted economic hardship that has greeted the masses.” CAN therefore called for an immediate retraction of the cancellation.

National Election Watch (NEW) frowned at the continued violence in elections and condemned the NEC cancellation of the parliamentary bye-Election in Constituency 110.

NEC conducted two bye-Elections in Ward 034 in Kenema District and Constituency 110 on Saturday. NEW said in a statement on Monday that “Whilst the Bye-Election in Ward 034 was conducted in a calm and peaceful atmosphere, the one in Constituency 110 was marred by violence towards the close of polls resulting in the cancellation of the entire election.”

According to NEW, at Sulpon Community Primary School, Wan Ose Centre №15074, polling was stopped for 6 hours (8:00am to 2:15pm) after the SLPP party agent complained that their voter register was not complete as names starting with letters K, L, M and S were missing. “This was not the case for other political party agents. NEC had however earlier provided electronic copies of the Final Voters Register to all political parties who reproduced hard copies for their party agents. NEC rectified the situation and extended voting for the affected polling stations to compensate for the time lost,” NEW said. “At around 4:00pm at Sarah Modern Preparatory School, Centre №15086, a man who NEW cannot recognize and who throughout the day was being consulted by the SLPP party agents in the polling centre, ordered voting to stop and started destruction of the ballot boxes and voting materials, after which a group of men rushed into the polling stations destroying ballot boxes and other election materials.”

NEW disclosed that Hon. Abdul Karim Kargbo of Constituency 077 Kaffu Bullom, Port Loko District serving as an All Peoples Congress polling centre coordinator was arrested by a civilian and handed over to the police on the allegation of carrying ballot papers.

NEW is concerned that “despite the heavy security presence and the invocation of MACP, polling stations were invaded and election materials destroyed and perpetrators not arrested; elections are cancelled for incidents affecting only a polling station or centre.”
“Elections in the country have become characterized by unbridled violence and lawlessness. The continued deep animosity and political intolerance between APC and SLPP continues to undermine credible elections and democratic practices in Sierra Leone. The continuous re-run of elections and Bye-Elections is making it difficult for the participation of women, Persons with Disability and the youths because of the cost involved,” NEW said.

NEW called on NEC to be consistent in their decisions regarding cancellation of polls, adding that the incidents of violence perpetrated in the bye-election in Constituency 110 be speedily investigated and perpetrators prosecuted.

The National Secretary General of APC, Alhaji Ambassador Dr. Osman Foday Yansaneh condemned the decision of NEC to cancel the re-run elections in Constituency 110 in the Western Area.

APC said it’s disappointed in NEC for cancelling the constituency 110 election result they claimed they won.

“This action by the NEC Chairperson is the highest degree of provocation and injustice, and the APC will explore all options available to us to ensure that such gross abuse of power and disenfranchisement of our peaceful and law-abiding members is not allowed to continue unchecked in Sierra Leone,” the secretary general said.

APC claimed that their supporters suffered extreme forms of intimidation and harassment “from the thugs of the ruling SLPP led by a renowned thug nicknamed “Arata”. APC said that the thugs went on the rampage across the Constituency during polling day reaching its climax at the Sarah Modern School Polling Centre in Angola Town under the watchful eyes of the Sierra Leone Police and military officers.

“Sadly, even though the police under the leadership of AIG Sovulla were kept duly informed by the leadership of the APC, instead of apprehending the perpetrator of the violence, it was Hon. Abdul Kargbo of the APC, head of the APC polling staff at the Centre,that was illegally arrested and detained at the Lumley Police Station.”

“APC wishes to emphatically make it known that we shall not accept the verdict of NEC to illegally cancel the results that we have been able to win at huge costs to our Party, and we call on the international community and all peace-loving and patriotic Sierra Leoneans to bring pressure to bear on NEC to reverse their arbitrary decision in the best interest of peace and stability in our beloved Sierra Leone,” it said. “To climax it all, the NEC has now, without the legal authority to do so, cancelled the results and called for a re-run.”

The National Secretary General of SLPP, Umaru Napoleon Koroma said in a statement that “the party is critically examining the decision by NEC to cancel the entire election and suggested rerun.

“We are convinced that our candidate should be declared winner of the elections, after all compiled results by our party show her victory. We also hold the view that the APC votes should have been annulled because of their planned and carefully executed electoral fraud,” he said. “We will communicate the outcome of our study of the NEC’s decision in due course. Meanwhile, all SLPP members are advised to stay calm and remaining peaceful.” SLPP claimed, “After tallying of accessed results by our party, our candidate Josephine Jackson clearly won the elections.”

SLPP said, the election started peacefully, until elements of the main opposition APC, allegedly led by Honorable Abdul Kargbo, attempted to disrupt the smooth flow of proceedings at or around Angola Town.

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