The Bye elections in Ward 52 in Kenema District and constituency 91 in Pujehun District respectively have ended. The process started on time with National Electoral Commission (NEC) staff conducting a well administered and managed electoral process. There were several senior NEC officials present at the stations as supervisors including the Chief Commissioner and the Northern Commissioner.
NEW commends NEC for responding appropriately to the tense environment in Pujehun, handling threats and intimidation in a professional manner likewise in Kenema district. NEW deployed 54 observers, 40 in Pujehun and 14 in Kenema to cover the bye elections which had a combined total of 31 polling centres. Overall NEW observed a general improvement in the electioneering as one recalls the last bye election in Pujehun which had to be cancelled due to political violence. In Pujehun approximately 5 polling centres reported incidences unlike the previous one in which the election was postponed.
NEW observed the presence of the Independent Radio Network (IRN), the United Nations staff, the All Political Party Youth Association (APPYA), the Office of National Security (ONS) and the Political Party Registration Commission (PPRC) who were involved in community sensitizations for non violent elections. We commend them all for their robust responses to situation that had the potential to cause problems. NEW noted a press release from ONS being read in polling stations by ONS coordinator Pujehun district decrying political and electoral violence as a crime against the state. Accredited party agents of the three main parties were present in all polling stations in Pujehun and in Kenema district NDA was present. In Pujehun district, NEW observed that some party agents especially PMDC, in polling centres in Fairo, Ghon, and Gendema disrupted the process as they were interfering with the election rather than doing their job of observing. Various incidences of questionable voter ID cards brought this confusion but it was well handled by NEC staff supported by the security personnel. Police presence was evident in every polling station and there were patrols in the electoral district. The military were visible in Pujehun district and not in Kenema. We commend the Sierra Leone Police for their vigilance and prompt response to incidents in polling stations. Their presence added value to the orderliness of the process.
Parliamentarians and other senior party executives from the three parties were highly visible in Pujehun district. NEW observed the presence of several Government Ministers using their official vehicles and contrary to section 7 and 8 of the Road Traffic Act 2007 all of the official Ministerial vehicles had their number plates covered with black piece of cloth rendering them unidentifiable. NEW also observed a vehicle with the license plate ADI 716 in Zimmi owned by Akim Turay of 9 Crook Street Freetown and also a close protection guard to the President .In Kenema district council’s bye election, no presence of government ministers or party officials was observed. NEW reminds all political operatives that there are only five categories of people permitted to be in the polling station. These five include accredited party agents, accredited observers, authorized security personnel, identifiable NEC officials and the voters.
Around 2 pm, a vehicle bearing the registration number AEM 564 owned by Mohamed Dumbuya of HS 36 Hill Station entered town at high speed throwing abusive languages at the population. Many of the 12 – 15 young men had their faces covered and their arrival and abuse created tension in the township. This led to the youth in the township mobilizing to counter their threat. The group left Zimmi heading south where they were intercepted by a police patrol between Ghon village and the border town of Gendema. Their leader, named Santos indicated to the Police Local Unit Commanders of Gendema, Pujehun police stations and the OSD Coordinator South, Mohamed Turay aka “Yete Yete” that he and his men were in the convoy escorting the Minister of Mineral Resources and Political Affairs. At a polling center in Ghon village the deputy Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Security was observed arriving with a government vehicle loaded with young men and argued with the NEC Polling Station Manager, disrupting the polling for over an hour.
NEW condemns the use of thugs to intimidate people during elections. People have the right to vote for their leaders without fear or favour. This is a throwback to days gone by, days best forgotten and is inimical to the successes in our fledgling democracy. Young people are a national asset and should be encouraged and empowered such as PPRC did with the All Political Parties Youth Association (APPYA) who should be congratulated for conducting a massive sensitization in Pujehun district against the manipulation and misuse of young people. The Government is well advised to come out very strongly condemning thuggery in these kinds of processes.