By Paul Ejime –
Head of the ECOWAS Observation Mission in Sierra Leone, Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas, has charged the 95 ECOWAS Observers to be neutral and carry out their responsibilities with a high sense of professionalism in country’s 16 electoral districts where they are deployed for the presidential and general elections today.
“Elections continue to represent the preferred mode by Africans for choosing or changing their leaders and our presence as observers will add value and give confidence to the electoral commission, political parties and the public at large to play their parts for a peaceful and credible electoral process,” Dr. Chambas told the observers on Thursday in Freetown, the nation’s capital.
Dr Chambas on the high table with other officials at the briefing of ECOWAS Election Observers in Freetown
He said that Sierra Leone, having gone through four electoral cycles with two peaceful transfers of power from the ruling party to the opposition had crossed the critical 20-year threshold for irreversible progress towards democratic consolidation.
“Our role is to support and accompany our brothers and sisters on the path for the consolidation of democracy,” said Dr Chambas, a former ECOWAS Commission President and current African Union Special Envoy on Silencing the Guns.
He noted that Sierra Leone “has a lot going for it, but at the same time, it must preserve and guard what has been achieved, by minimizing or eliminating negative tendencies such as violence, personalization of democracy, use of thugs, vote-buying and the instrumentalization of the judiciary” to avoid a relapse to conflict.
Commending the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) for its impact in standardizing some aspects of the electoral process across the region, Dr Chambas called for caution regarding contestations of the transmission of election results.
He thanked the observers for their spirit of volunteerism and urged them to persevere and discharge their duties with vigilance and professionalism.
In his welcome remarks, Amb. Abdel-Fatau Musah, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace, and Security, commended Sierra Leone’s political leaders and stakeholders for working across the aisles in spite of the apparent political differences in the country.
“Everything might not be smooth,” he said, but he, however, expressed optimism that “residual issues could be resolved to enable uninterrupted march towards deepening democracy.”
Dr Chambas with Abdulai Caulker, Coordinator of Sierra Leone Office of National Security
Noting that ECOWAS made its name in peacekeeping in the Mano River Union (MRU) region through the successful ending of the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, Amb. Musah, who had served as ECOWAS Director of Political Affairs and a Director at the UN in charge of West Africa, expressed the hope that the “shift from bullet to ballot,” should be sustained for the entrenchment of democracy in the entire ECOWAS region.
Welcoming the Observers, Mr Serigne Ka, Acting Head of the ECOWAS Electoral Assistance Division (EAD), enjoined them to give their best as worthy ambassadors of the regional organization.
In continuation of its engagements with key political stakeholders, the Dr Chambas-led ECOWAS Observation Mission met on Thursday with officials of Sierra Leone’s Office of National Security (ONS), which issued a statement on Wednesday condemning the violence in some parts of the country. It reassured the citizens of their safety and security noting that Saturday’s elections would go ahead as planned.
The ECOWAS delegation, which includes the Deputy Head of Mission, Ambassador Ansumana Ceesay, and the ECOWAS Special Representative to Sierra Leone Amb. Moussa Harouna had earlier met with officials of the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone, the Political Parties Regulation Commission, the Early Warning and Response Coordination Center and also exchanged views with the leaderships of the African Union and Commonwealth Observations Missions.
Thirteen of Sierra Leone’s seventeen registered political parties are fielding candidates in Saturday’s presidential election with sitting President Julius Maada Bio, who is seeking re-election on the platform of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), and Samura Kamara of the opposition All People’s Congress (APC), as the two frontrunners.
A candidate requires 55% of valid votes cast to win the presidency in the first round, otherwise the two frontrunners will go into a run-off vote two weeks after the official announcement of the first-round results.
Some 135 Parliamentary and 493 Mayoral and Local Council seats are also in contention on Saturday.
The Electoral Commission registered 3,374,258 voters for the 2023 elections out of Sierra Leone’s estimated population of 8.7 million.
Voting will take place in 11,832 polling stations within 3,630 polling Centers across the 16 electoral districts nationwide from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM.