New Democrat (Monrovia)

28 November 2012

Sierra Leone: S/Leone Elections - Ballot Stuffing Claims Persist

Sierra Leone's presidential and general elections, conducted on November 17, 2012, appear to have generated much anger and general discontent among the electorate who said the results engendered more interests than met the eyes.

Boima J.V. Boima, recently in Freetown and some provinces covering the elections, reports.

After a long and successful political campaigns by all parties contesting the elections, more than 80% of Sierra Leoneans turned out on November 17, 2012, as early as 2.a.m to vote for their leaders in a multitier biometric elections - the first since the end of the country's civil conflict and the third post war elections in that West African nation.

After the close of the polls, the Independent Radio Network (IRN), an amalgamation of more than 20 radio stations began to announce preliminary results which included results of presidential, parliamentary and local government officials.

From a candid observation,

at almost all of the polling stations where the results were being

announced , incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma of the All People's Party (APC) took the lead with wider margins that if calculated well, could

nearly attract a figure more than the total number of registered voters who took part in the elections across the country.

Electoral Process & Key Observations

The entire electoral process was generally peaceful on the polling day with few reports of minor disturbances in some parts of the country.

The voters as stated earlier turned out en-mass to vote for their leaders without any intimidation as both the security apparatus and the National Elections Commission or NEC staffs worked assiduously to ensure a peaceful election.

Observatory missions, including the African Union, ECOWAS, the European Union and the Commonwealth Observation Mission, also described the process as 'peaceful, free and fair.'

But after the close of the polls, some 'malpractices' were reported at most of the stations across the country.

The announcement of these results by those journalists was able to unveil some 'flaws and malpractices' in the entire electoral process. Firstly, the opposition and other investigators were able to detect that APC operatives had printed and stamped a large quantity of pre-voted ballot papers across the country.

Secondly, the results which were announced by these journalists appeared to have misrepresented those that originated from the voters at the poll. APC was reported to have put in place a scheme which saw the Reconciliation and Result Forms (RRF) pasted at the centre being "removed and forged" to favour them. For example, if the APC candidate got like 10 votes at a polling station, such results would be removed and the figure changed to 1000, and a reporter visiting the said centre will unknowingly announce the posted result as the original, placing the APC in the lead.

Another instance is one polling station where veteran politician Charles Francis Margai, Standard Bearer of the Opposition Peoples Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) and family members, including his wife, children, security and brothers voted in Aberdeen, Western Freetown. A zero vote was announced for Margai at that center, thus prompting doubts as to where he and his family cast their ballots during the polls.

There were also claims of ballot stuffing after the polls. The opposition accused the APC of using money to bribe poll workers so as to enable them stuff ballot boxes after the close of polls.

Both the main opposition SLPP and the PMDC catalogued these 'evidences of electoral frauds and malpractices' and submitted them to NEC for investigations. However, they were referred to the police by Dr. Christiana Thorpe, chair of the NEC.

She informed them that with the issue of ballot stuffing, she would comment on that later and that 10% of the polling station results had been quarantined for recounting.

This meant that she could have either nullified those quarantined polling stations' results if it was proven that over voting took place at those stations as provided for in the

Public Elections Acts of 2012 or added their totals to the outcome of the actual result if there was no incidence of over voting. In 2007, during the then Presidential elections, Madam Thorpe nullified more than 400 polling stations' result on similar grounds, she was not however clothed with the authority to do such by law. History did not however repeat itself this time around.

Outcome

To the astonishment of many, while those recounting were on-going in Kono and other parts of the country, Madam Thorpe

announced the result of the presidential elections thus declaring incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma the winner. He was sworn into office on the same day in less than 20 minutes,

as the new

leader of the country.

President Koroma was alloted 58.7% of the ballots cast while the main opposition leader Julius Maad Bio, of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) lost with 37%. The other political parties attracted lesser votes and percentages for both the presidency and the legislative elections. Only the APC and the SLPP will get representation at the country's Parliament and it is expected that incumbent President Koroma will get more seats in the parliament situated on Tower Hill- seat of the nation's power.

Reactions and Protest

Upon hearing the result, words of congratulations began to pour from both the US and other countries across the world who urged the opposition to accept the result and channelled all their 'grievances through the right ambit of the law.'

But Rtd. Brig. Bio says that he will not accept the result since it was "fraudulent." He however called on his supporters to remain peaceful and reports all forms of provocations and intimations from the APC supporters to the "nearest police stations" across the country.

There are lots of discontent amongst the voters many of who believe that their "rights were hijacked to give another chance to President Koroma who failed to deliver on his first term promises."

With the just concluded elections, there are concerns about the question of unity and reconciliation that will undoubtedly accelerate the economic growth of the country of a country that returned to normalcy few years ago after a brutal civil war. Analysts say the political leaders need to put in place a system or methodology that can once again unite the nation that is now visibly divided on tribal and regional lines.

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