Thirty-five international observers of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) yesterday at the Bintumani Hotel, Aberdeen in Freetown, released their preliminary statement on the presidential run-off election held in Sierra Leone on September 8, 2007.
Nora Owen, former Minister for Justice and former Member of Parliament (Ireland) raised the delegation’s concerns that while polling centres were largely well-administered across the country, they had concerns about events in specific areas.
In 14 polling stations (within 6 polling centres) visited by members of the delegation in Pujehun, Bo, and Kenema, voters’ turnout was approximately 100 percent by early afternoon. This, she said, raised serious questions about the integrity of the results in those particular stations. Owen stated that the delegation would continue to carefully track the results that came from these stations.
The former Minister of Justice pointed out that, “the delegation received reports that party agents may have been blocked from monitoring polling activities in certain polling centres, particularly in Kailahun, Kenema, and Pujehun districts”.
“In isolated cases, polling staff were confused about, or failed to follow procedures. For example, observers noted inconsistency in the inking of fingers, including polling staff neglecting to ink some voters’ fingers,” she disclosed adding that although the NEC guidelines stipulated that polling officials check voters’ hands for ink before allowing them to vote, the delegation noted that the polling officials did not apply the procedure consistently.
In several places observed, she maintained, polling staff were unsure about the new NEC guidelines on the number of party agents allowed in each station.
Non-sensitive materials, including some forms, pens, and ballot screen curtains, were delivered late or not at all to several stations, forcing polling staff to improvise, Nora Owen confirmed.
The former member of Ireland Parliament added that despite NEC’s efforts to provide additional training to polling staff on invalidating ballots, guidelines that ballots should be counted if the intention of the voter was clear were inconsistently applied.
Furthermore, Owen disclosed that in some districts, reports of intimidation, including from Paramount Chiefs and secret societies, were of concern.
“In very cohesive communities, domestic observers and party agents from the local area may not have provided an adequate check to secure against electoral malpractices in the polling stations,” she declared.
Giving their delegation recommendations Ken Nnamani, former Senate President (Nigeria) said that the Government of Sierra Leone should ensure that the transfer of power from one democratically elected president to another proceeded peacefully.
“The Government of Sierra Leone should take responsibility for supporting an independent NEC, including providing sustained and adequate funding and the Government of Sierra Leone should take steps to ensure that Paramount Chiefs are neutral and impartial during electoral processes,” he noted.
To the Sierra Leone police, he urged them to remain vigilant in the post-election period and continue to work with other stakeholders to maintain peace and order.