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Sierra Leone News: Violence mars bye-elections – results cancelled

The National Electoral Commission (NEC), conducted a Local Council bye- election at Ward 196 in Kambia but the process was marred by violence which has seen the cancellation of the entire elections by NEC. In a press release, NEC stated that polling at 17 stations in the Ward started 7:00 a.m. in a peaceful manner. However, the release states, “During the course of the polls, violence erupted in Polling Centre 8057 at St Mary’s Junior Secondary School Mile 14 with a total registered voters of 1,012. Violence also erupted at Polling Centre 8060 at Wesleyan Church of Sierra Leone Primary School, Masunthu, with total registered voters of 1,051. Each Centre had four polling stations each. Furthermore, at Mile 14, polling was disrupted at about 2:30 p.m. leading to the destruction of a ballot box containing ballot papers in one of the four polling stations at the Centre. Staff at this centre were placed under siege and voting discontinued for the remainder of the voting period. The Commission explained that another clash occurred between the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and the All People’s Congress (APC) at 3:00 p.m. at Masunthu (Polling Centre 8060), which was very intense. The violence led to the closing of polls for the rest of the day. The National Election Watch (NEW) stated that the bye-election in Ward 196 in the Kambia District was “marred by gross intimidation, thuggery and excessive violence.” NEW endorses the decision of NEC to cancel the entire elections. NEW further disclosed that “the security of election staff and materials, observers and peaceful voters was seriously threatened by the activities of supporters of the SLPP and the APC party who were shouting invectives and throwing missiles at each other spilling over to election staff, observers and voters in the vicinity of polling centres.” Even with the presence of the Sierra Leone Police they “could not contain the violence resulting in the death of a 14-year old boy and damage to election materials,” according to NEW. “As a result of these incidences voting did not end peacefully in most of the polling stations, which prevented voters from casting ballots for the candidate of their choice which seriously undermines democratic principles and the credibility of the election,” according to NEC. The US Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Maria Brewer, the British High Commissioner, Guy Warrington, the Irish Ambassador, Catherine Campbell, the EU Ambassador, Tom Vens and Horst Gruner, the German Ambassador designate, have all signed a statement on the recent election violence. It reads, “The undersigned have read with concern… by the NEC explaining the cancellation of the local council by-election in Kambia District due to electoral violence. We condemn this violence which regrettably lead to the loss of life… and call upon authorities to investigate and … bring the perpetrators to justice.” The joint statement calls on Sierra Leoneans to remain peaceful and respectful of the democratic process and urges candidates and constituents to commit to a non-violent, law-abiding and peaceful process. NEC says “regret to inform the general public that it has cancelled the polls for Ward 196 bye -election Kambia District.” Secretary General of the APC, Osman Yansaneh, in a release, stated that the Party “categorically condemns all forms of violence, intimidation and police heavy-handedness against unarmed civilians in the election.” He went further to say the APC disagrees with the decision of NEC to cancel the election and we will challenge the Commission in a court of law.” He said, “We found no Section of the Constitution or of the Act that vests such powers in the Commission to cancel an entire election process based on a flimsy reason, which has not been contested by any of the contestants in the said election.” “The APC Party remains convinced that its candidate, Alusine Kamara, is the winner of the Local Council Bye Election and will duly inform local stakeholders and members of the international community, as brokers of peace.” The National Grand Coalition (NGC), which also took part in elections, wrote to the Chief Electoral Commissioner stating, “The Commission gave a true representation of the events and the circumstances that led to your wise decision to cancel the polls in the said elections.” The NGC agree, “…this sort of conduct definitely seeks to destroy the combined efforts and resources of our national institutions and our international supporters in trying to build a democracy.” The NGC believe that a major factor undermining sacrifices to foster democratic values and principles and to build democratic institutions is impunity. “In light of the forgoing we humbly request that you conduct an official investigation and disqualify those found guilty of undermining the polls. The NGC note, “Your (NEC) decision to cancel the polls and promise fresh ones does absolutely nothing to punish the parties that were deliberately responsible for aborting the process.” They also note, “This level of lawlessness and barbaric behaviour displayed by some supporters of the two belligerent parties invokes a frightening picture of what might happen in the 2022/2023 elections if NEC does not take appropriate disciplinary action.” The SLPP, in their release, said, “We vehemently condemn the political violence during the bye-elections. This situation is very unfortunate, particularly when it has led to the death of an innocent Sierra Leonean in an election that no one was supposed to be insulted.” They called on the Sierra Leone Police to conduct a full investigation to determine the perpetrators of the violence in the bye-elections in Ward 196 and bring the culprits to book.

BM/1/10/18

By Betty Milton

Tuesday October 02, 2018.

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