5 March 2018

West Africa: ECOWAS Election Observation Team Urges Peaceful Resolution of Electoral Issues

Prof. Amos Sawyer, Head of the ECOWAS' 55-member Election Observation Mission has appealed to Sierra Leone's political actors and stakeholders to cooperate and ensure that all outstanding political and legal issues are resolved peaceful so as not to jeopardise the smooth conduct of the country's crucial March 7 presidential, parliamentary and local council polls.

"These elections should be seen in the wider and broader context of advancing peace and stability in Sierra Leone and the ECOWAS region," the Head of Mission said in Freetown on Saturday 3rd March after a meeting with the leadership of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), part of his continuing engagement with stakeholders ahead of the elections.

The major pre-election issues, whose outcome could impact the elections, are the dual citizenship case involving two of the 16 presidential candidates pending and the restriction of vehicular movement in the District headquarter Towns on Election Day. There are three cases before the Supreme Court for determination.

Political and legal experts have expressed concern that the success of the March 7 elections could depend on mature handling of the court cases, especially those on the presidential candidature. Under the Sierra Leone constitution, a political party whose candidate is disqualified has seven days to produce a replacement. Given that the elections are in a few days' time, either going ahead with the polls or a postponement has a cost and credibility implications on the elections.

Consequently, Prof. Sawyer has continued to preach peace and the need for prompt resolution of the issues at meetings with the stakeholders, including the outgoing President Ernest Bai Koroma, the Chief Justice and members of the Supreme Court Bench, as well as NEC.

"Sierra Leone has come a long way from its civil war and what required is the collective efforts by the citizens, the government, security agencies, the judiciary, civil society and the media to take the country to the next level," declared the former Interim President of Liberia.

This is against the background of the fact that electoral disputes have triggered many a political conflict in the region and the continent resulting in huge human and financial losses and untold humanitarian catastrophe.

At the meeting with Prof. Sawyer, the NEC Chairman Mohamed N'fah-Alie Conteh assured that "on the whole, given the level of preparations, the Commission is confident that the elections will go well."

He thanked ECOWAS, the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) and development partners for supporting the electoral process. Before the deployment of observers, in line with its mandate to support member States holding elections, ECOWAS has also provided financial support after undertaking a pre-election fact-finding mission to Sierra Leone, with the purpose of ensuring that all stakeholders are on the same page for credible elections and peaceful transfer of political power in the country.

Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, President of ECONEC governing board and Chair of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigeria also led a Needs Assessment Mission to Sierra Leone in 2017, which resulted in the pledge of logistical support towards ensuring successful March 7 elections and the consolidation of peace and democracy in the country.

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