I. Executive Summary
The 17 November elections were the third elections since the end of the civil war in Sierra Leone and the first ones to be led by the National Electoral Commission (NEC). Following an invitation from the Government of Sierra Leone and the National Electoral Commission, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) was present in Sierra Leone from 27 September to 14 December. The Mission was led by Chief Observer, Richard Howitt, Member of the European Parliament. In total, the EU EOM deployed 100 observers from 26 EU Member States, and Norway, across the country to assess the whole electoral process in accordance with international and regional commitments for elections as well as the laws of Sierra Leone. A delegation of members of the European Parliament, headed by Mariya Gabriel, Member of the European Parliament, also joined the mission to observe election day.
The November elections were contested by ten political parties and nine presidential candidates. The political environment was extremely polarised with the contest, in reality, being between APC and SLPP.
The legal framework was acceptable for the conduct of democratic elections which is in line with regional and international commitments undertaken by Sierra Leone. The NEC acted in an overall independent and impartial manner and an introduction of biometric voter registration (BVR) is a notable achievement. Freedoms of assembly, speech and movement were generally respected; however there was an unequal playing field, in particular with regard to the access to the media and the abuse of incumbency. These elections regrettably failed to enhance women representation in the parliament.
Despite a widespread fear of a return to violence among all election stakeholders, the electoral process was largely calm and peaceful. The elections were overall credible and conducive to the consolidation of democracy, however further progress will depend on the will of national institutions to address shortcomings.
The legal framework governing the electoral process provides an acceptable basis for the conduct of democratic elections in line with regional and international commitments undertaken by Sierra Leone. There are, however, many deficiencies in the protection and promotion of full participation in the electoral process, with both legal and constitutional reform necessary to fully comply with the principles of international law. These include several limitations on the right to stand for public office and on the secrecy of voting, the absence of a timeframe stipulated by law for the different stages of the electoral process, and inadequate time frames for the adjudication of complaints and appeals.
Some qualification criteria for the nomination of candidates are not in line with Sierra Leone’s international commitments. These include an obstacle to independent candidates running for presidential office, high non-refundable nomination fees for candidates to stand for election, though they were subsidised by the state after the arrangement of 13 September, and the overly restrictive requirement for presidential and parliamentary candidates to resign from public office at least one year before elections.
Freedoms of speech and movement were respected as candidates campaigned actively throughout the country. The election calendar issued by the NEC, asserted to be a tension reducing mechanism, necessary to avoid clashes between political party supporters, limited the right of political parties to assemble freely. This campaign calendar was not uniformly applied across the country. The two main parties frequently breached the campaign calendar by campaigning outside their allotted days. There was an absence of any police enforcement of respect for the calendar, but local mediation by PPRC officials was observed in some areas.
An unequal playing field was evident throughout the campaign period. Although the election campaign was dominated by the ruling APC and the main opposition SLPP, APC clearly benefited from the advantages of incumbency by making use of state resources, enjoying considerably more media coverage and clearly having more financial resources for campaigning, including considerable sums spent on paid media airtime as compared to SLPP and other political parties. The volume of resources invested in the campaign by the ruling party clearly exceeded that of the SLPP. The other political parties, including PMDC, were much less visible as they lacked financial resources to conduct large-scale public campaign events. As no state financial support is made available to political parties, their ability to compete in elections was impaired.
The media overall provided a reasonably diverse platform for political parties in proportion to their level of activity in the electoral campaign. Significant unbalances, however, were observed in the electoral coverage of both public and some private media. According to the EU EOM's media monitoring findings, the public broadcaster gave access to most of the political contestants. Nevertheless, in key areas such as news bulletins and election related programmes, SLBC showed significant quantitative unbalance in favour of the ruling party. The quality and balance of electoral coverage by private media was very diverse, with the print media registering the most evident cases of biased coverage both in terms of space and tone. The radio stations Radio Democracy and Cotton Tree News (CTN), and the newspapers Awoko and Concord Times, offered balanced and neutral coverage of the campaign period, both in amount of airtime/space and tone devoted to political parties.
The NEC acted independently and impartially throughout the whole election process and key decisions were made in consultation with political parties and other stakeholders. Notable exceptions, however, were the process of prescribing nomination fees, which did not include any consultations, and the announcement of presidential election results, as the winning APC presidential candidate and incumbent President was evidently informed about the results earlier than the other presidential candidates and the general public, as his swearing-in ceremony started shortly after the official announcement of the presidential election results.
The introduction of biometric voter registration (BVR) is a notable achievement of the 2012 elections. All phases of the voter registration process were observed by party agents of all key political parties, as well as by domestic observers from the National Election Watch (NEW),and the whole process is generally regarded by all stakeholders, as well as by the EU EOM, as transparent and credible, despite delays in implementation and some technical problems which occurred, particularly during the initial phases of biometric data capture.
Technical electoral preparations were largely completed in a timely manner. However, the absence of a publicly available consolidated electoral calendar made it difficult for stakeholders to assess the real state of electoral preparations. The decentralised regional and district tally procedures were approved by the NEC at an extremely late stage, only three days before election day. As a consequence, political parties and other stakeholders had only a very limited time to familiarise themselves with these procedures in order to be able to effectively scrutinise the results tallying process. The NEC also failed to provide timely and adequate voter education at the ward level. Given the high levels of illiteracy in the country and the level of democratic development, the EU EOM believes that significantly more civic voter education over a substantially longer period was needed by all relevant state institutions in order to guarantee the right to an informed choice of the voters.
The conduct of voting operations was positively assessed in 95 percent of the 404 polling stations visited by the EU EOM, with voting procedures being largely followed. The voting was generally conducted in an orderly, calm and peaceful manner. Political party agents of both main parties were present in 90 percent of polling stations visited while at least one domestic observer was present in 85 per cent of stations visited. Counting in the polling stations visited was conducted in the presence of political party agents and observers and the integrity of the counting process was sufficiently protected. Copies of the reconciliation and result forms (RRFs), however, were not always publicly displayed and were not always given to party agents.
As originally foreseen by the NEC, the whole process of results tallying relied entirely on the results produced by the four regional tally centres. A high number of RRFs arrived at the tally centres in unsealed envelopes, missing essential data, and/or the stamp and signature of the presiding officer. The regional tally centre procedures for clearing RRFs from quarantine did not clearly specify what steps had to be taken in order to clear RRFs from quarantine. Neither did they detail when polling station results have to be recounted. As a result, decisions taken in this regard by the various regional tally centres were not consistent and were often poorly communicated to the agents and observers present, leading to a reduced level of transparency. Despite these shortcomings, however, EU EOM observers assessed that the integrity of the tallying process, during their observations at tally centres, was sufficiently protected in the vast majority of cases.
The NEC announced certified results of the presidential election on 23 November with a high national turnout of 87.3 percent.The APC presidential candidate and incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma received 58.7 percent of the valid votes and was declared duly elected as President of the Republic of Sierra Leone. The SLPP candidate Julius Maada Bio obtained 37.4 per cent of valid votes and Charles Margai of PMDC obtained 1.3 per cent. The announced results were based on 97.6 per cent of the polling stations-the results of five polling stations were invalidated and 219 polling station results continue to be quarantined. According to the NEC, the results from the quarantined polling stations could not influence the outcome of the election.
The certified results of parliamentary elections for 109 out of 112 constituencies were announced on 26 November with APC obtaining 67 seats and SLPP obtaining 42. The results of two constituencies were not announced due to High Court injunctions and, in one constituency, the election was postponed due to the death of the PMDC candidate to 9 February 2013. For the District Chairperson/Mayor elections, out of thirteen elected District Chair persons, seven are from APC and six from SLPP. Out of six elected Mayors, three are from APC and three from SLPP. As for 456 Councillor seats, APC won 253 seats, SLPP 198seats, independent candidates four seats and PMDC one seat. The -EOM nevertheless considers that the will of the people was reflected in the overall results.
The November elections failed to enhance women participation in public life and women membership of the national parliament despite the political parties’ commitments to affirmative action within their nomination and other practices. There were no female candidates for the office of president, while there were four female running-mates for the office of vice-president. The 65 women nominated as candidates in the parliamentary elections represented 11 percent of candidates, mirroring exactly the same figure as 2007. Only 16 amongst these candidates were elected to parliament, representing less than 13percent of parliamentarians. While capacity building training for female aspirants and candidates was in some cases offered in the recent electoral process, this was inadequate to address the participation of women in this election. In a notable exception to national trends, an initiative in Kailahun by the Kailahun Women in Governance Network, which offered training and financial support to female candidates from all parties, resulted in the election of over 40 percent of women to the local council.
The time limits for complaints and appeals foreseen in the law allow for procedures to continue past polling day, thereby denying timely and effective remedies to aggrieved parties. An appeal against the decision of a returning officer regarding a contested parliamentary or local council candidate nomination may be made to the NEC and, beyond this, by way of election petition to the High Court, only after the declaration of results. This is a notable gap in the legislation in that no procedure exists for dealing with contested nominations between delivery of the decision of NEC and the publication of election results. Challenges to the results of presidential elections are made to the Supreme Court within seven day of the declaration of results. No time limit is laid down for the delivery of a decision in this matter.
A comprehensive list of recommendations is offered at the end of this report in order to promote further improvements in certain areas of the electoral process. Key recommendations include:
a. to end discrimination in the rules of candidacy for election in line with international commitments and to promote wider participation in public life, enabling the candidacy of naturalised citizens and those with dual nationality for parliament and local council elections, and the candidacy of independent candidates for the office of president.
b. revision of the time-frames in the electoral law, particularly in relation to objections to nominations and petitions challenging the validity of results offering more timely and effective remedies to those aggrieved in the electoral process. It is imperative that nomination controversies be resolved in advance of printing ballot papers and election day, while shortened time limits in the adjudication of challenges to results would be a positive development.
c. adoption and publication of a consolidated electoral calendar with clearly set deadlines for completion of particular activities well ahead of any electoral event enhancing transparency and stakeholders’ confidence in the electoral process.
d. strengthening civic and voter education with special focus on illiterate voters in areas with no or limited access to electronic media, and with greater involvement of civil society organisations could enable voters to make a more informed choice and reduce the number of invalid votes in future elections.
e. inclusion of the data on number of voters who voted through the Final Voter Register and Additions to the Final Voter Register in the polling station reconciliation and result forms would accelerate the results tallying process.
f. adoption and publication of the detailed tally centre procedures, clearly stipulating the steps to be taken in the case of quarantined results, at least six months in advance of any electoral event.
g. introduction of financial support by government for political parties can be considered on an annual basis, using proportionality criteria. The amount could be based on the number of votes received at general elections.
h. promotion of the participation of women in public life through adoption of legislation requiring affirmative action gender policies within parties and
i. strengthening the power and legal authority of the Independent Media Commission.