By: James Kamara-Manneh

The Sierra Leone Electoral System Review Committee has formally adopted the terms of reference, outlining a comprehensive plan to guide the detailed review and advancement of electoral processes and governing bodies. This occurred during a special edition of the government’s weekly press conference held at the New Brookfield Hotel. The Ministry of Information and Civic Education, in conjunction with the cross-party committee on electoral systems and management bodies in Sierra Leone, announced significant progress.

However, a notable disagreement arose during the briefing between government and APC representatives on the Tripartite Committee on Electoral Reforms regarding the scope of their investigation. Dr. Emmanuel Gaima contended that the Committee lacks the authority to subject the Electoral Commission to an investigation, while Dr. Kaifala Marah insisted on examining the June 2023 elections, including the actions of the Electoral Commission.

This disagreement and differing interpretations of the Committee’s mandate suggest a potentially turbulent start to the electoral reform process. Dr. Marah’s insistence on scrutinizing the Electoral Commission’s actions indicates a desire for thorough scrutiny and transparency, while Dr. Gaima’s position reflects a more cautious approach, perhaps aiming to avoid conflict with the government or preserve the Commission’s autonomy.

This disparity in views at the outset of the process raises concerns about the Committee’s ability to effectively address electoral reforms in a collaborative and impartial manner. It will be crucial for Committee members to find common ground and establish clear guidelines to ensure a fair and transparent investigation moving forward.

Several months ago, following mediated dialogue between the APC and the Government of Sierra Leone, an agreement was signed. As part of this agreement, a cross-party committee on Electoral System and Management Bodies Review was formed, with leadership from the government, the main opposition APC, and government partners. This committee was tasked with examining the electoral systems used in the 2023 electoral cycle and reviewing past elections to identify and address contentious issues related to election and result management, including collation, authentication, and publishing of electoral results, to enhance the credibility of future elections in Sierra Leone.

During the press conference, the UN Resident Representative to Sierra Leone, Madam Seraphine Wakana, expressed satisfaction with the progress made by the committee, particularly under the leadership of Dr. Kaifala Marrah and Dr. Emmanuel Gaima. She praised their ability to navigate divergent views and strong opinions within the committee, highlighting it as an important step towards national unity and cohesion, as advocated by President Julius Maada Bio.

Madam Wakana emphasized the critical importance of reviewing electoral systems to strengthen democracy in Sierra Leone. She stated that meaningful electoral reforms, aligned with international best practices, would bolster institutions and sustain democratic governance in the country. She reiterated that the process of electoral reform is nationally owned, with the commitment of both domestic stakeholders and development partners, including the United Nations, to support the implementation of the committee’s work and the broader agreement for national unity.

Dr. Kaifala Marrah, speaking on behalf of the main opposition and as Co-chair of the Tripartite Committee, reiterated the committee’s mandate to review the 2023 general elections and previous elections. He emphasized their focus on issues such as voter verification, publishing of electoral results, and adherence to international best practices. Dr. Marrah urged public cooperation with the committee and highlighted the scope of its terms of reference, emphasizing the importance of ensuring free, fair, and credible elections in Sierra Leone.

Furthermore, Dr. Marrah outlined key factors under review by the committee, including election result management processes such as the printing of voter registers, tallying procedures at regional and national levels, and the transmission of results from various centers to the national tally center. These efforts aim to address any shortcomings and enhance the credibility of future elections in Sierra Leone.

On the government’s side, Dr. Emmanuel Gaima, serving as Co-chair for the government of Sierra Leone, stated that the president is committed to supporting the committee throughout their mandate. He said the president believes that governance is inclusivity and individual participation; therefore, he is doing all he can to reform the electoral systems and laws.

He reminded the audience that electoral reforms are an ongoing process and cannot address everything immediately. He said the president, at the opening of parliament, announced his intention to set up an electoral reform committee to be headed by the Vice President. However, shortly after this announcement, other governmental bodies convened a round table dialogue with the main opposition party APC and the ruling party SLPP.

The concluded dialogue led to the formation of the tripartite committee to examine past elections, including the 2023 general elections. Dr. Gaima urged the public not to preempt the recommendations of the committee and noted that their mandate does not explicitly call for a rerun of the 2023 general elections, as per Sierra Leonean laws, with the next election scheduled for 2028.



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