Who Administers Sierra Leonean Elections?

22 August 2006 at 08:37 | 771 views

"When the ruling party starts calling the shots in elections, announcing and fixing dates, the detachment and neutrality of the NEC dissipates and bias rises in its wake to compound elections problems. In these intemperate times when the NEC is besieged by extra-constitutional Presidential authority, there is disquiet reigning among the opposition political parties that the NEC should be seen as detached and neutral in the forth coming presidential and Parliamentary elections."

“[Paramount Chiefs] are expected to be neutral in politics,"

Christiana Thorpe, Chief Electoral Commissioner.

By John Lansana Musa, USA.

The 2007 general elections in Sierra Leone will be the summit of the international community’s attempt to consolidate our return to democracy and pluralism. They will also be the herald and proof of our commitment to the principles and practice of our self-determination towards our up-and-coming democracy. The question that impinges on this grave foreboding for our democracy’s viability largely depends on how we build democratic institutions that safeguard the rule of law and human rights. How elections are administered in the spirit of democratic competition proves democracy is inhering in the interstices of our society. Glib-tongued statements that the 2007 elections will be free and fair by garden-variety politicians hewn in the control of the machinery of government against their democratic rivals is often a ruse to give an appearance of fair competition. The implications of the failure of the NEC to conduct free and fair elections in the face of the meddling of the ruling party will be palpable for a country recovering from a protracted war and given the decade long investments of the United Nations and donor countries to restore our retrograde country. For these and other germane reasons, the present essay highlights the baleful import of the affray between the Kabbah administration and the NEC central role in the conduct of all elections.

The prelude to the election process has already begun in bad faith with hiccups in rancor and gainsaying between the PMDC and the SLPP over whether Solomon Berewa is impermissibly holding the title of Party Leader in contravention of the 1991 Constitution and the Political Parties Registration Act. There are strong constitutional grounds to say that the Office of Vice President is disqualified by constitutional grant as impermissibly incongruous with being Party Leader. While this matter tarries before the Supreme Court, the Political Parties Registration Commission has recently handed an imprudent and incompetent decision in the matter in Mr. Berewa’s favor. The judgment reeks of poor reasoning and baselessness in legal authority.

In another dispute, featuring the National Electoral Commission Chairman Christiana Thorpe and President Kabbah, the pair grappled over who is in charge of administering the notorious Biriwa Chiefdom elections. As Thorpe attempted to administer the elections, President Kabbah hectored the NEC Chairman about what the prevailing law is in Chiefdom elections. A careful review of the election laws of Sierra Leone conclusively mandates the NEC conduct all public elections notwithstanding President Kabbah’s allusions to inferior colonial statutes now at variance with the 1991 Constitution provisions that warrant the NEC to administer elections. A more poignant point to be made is President Kabbah’s whimsical announcement of the general elections. The action usurps the constitutional authority of the NEC’s central role to make such decisions after consultations. The announcement of the 2007 elections calls into question whether the NEC will be left unfettered by Presidential meddling in its administration of elections. The issue has been mooted over the authority of the NEC after a State House capricious order to the NEC to handover election materials to the Ministry of Local Government in the Biriwa Chiefdon Paramount Chief elections. The NEC was ruffled and the President prevailed by fiat instead of constitutional authority.

The most egregious usurpation of the authority of the NEC authority to conduct elections is of Section 28 of the Electoral Laws Act 2002. That law states without reservation the role of the NEC in election administration, especially the announcement and fixing dates of the Presidential election:
“(1) There shall be a presidential election to fill any vacancy occurring in the office of the President under subsection (1) of section 49 of the constitution.
(2) The vacancy to be filled by any presidential election shall be declared by the Electoral Commission by proclamation made after consultation with the President.
(3) Where the vacancy in the office of President occurs-
(a) in any of the circumstances referred to in paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of section 49 of the Constitution, a period during which the presidential election shall be held shall be determined by the Commission in accordance with section 43 of the constitution; and
(b) in any other case, the Electoral Commission, may in the proclamation referred to in subsection (2), fix the actual date of the election, such date not being earlier than thirty days and not later than sixty days before the day appointed for voting in the elections.”

So why did President Kabbah undertake the recent declaration of announcing and fixing the date of the 2007 elections in violation of Section 28? Opposition parties now complain that the scheduled elections will occur in the middle of the rainy season and that will make it inauspicious to permit electors to go out and vote. In psephology or the science of elections, inclement weather mars an election turnout. Election studies have concluded that large turnouts favor opposition parties especially if the incumbent or his personal choice is unpopular because of his dismal stewardship. President Kabbah was first elected on March 29, 1996 in a second ballot after a February 26 election. He was elected to a second term in a May 14 2002 election. These previous elections were all conducted in view of the effect of the rainy season on voters. Historically, Sierra Leone elections were conducted in the dry season in April for similar reasons. The NEC should heed the complaints of the opposition parties and consider exercising its authority to schedule an auspicious time for the general elections or a cloud will continue to hang over the presidential meddling by the ruling party.

The role of the President in declaring elections for Parliament under the Constitution is misunderstood by those who pit the President’s supposed role against that of the administration of elections by the NEC. The official duties of the President are enumerated in Chapter 5 under Section 40 of the Constitution. There is nary a function for the President in election administration. Section 87 has become the safe harbor for those interpreting the constitution in favor of Mr. Kabbah, that he enjoys constitutional duty to announce elections. But this chorus of confederates of the President’s role is dead wrong in this feigned assumption. Section 87 of the 1991 Constitution is the progeny of Section 54 of the Independence Constitution where the Governor-General had a role in summoning, prorogation and dissolving Parliament. The President survived to the Governor-General’s role in these functions and the election of members of Parliament is included in that section as an incident of summoning, prorogation and dissolving Parliament, instead of a constitutional grant of authority or duty of declaring elections by the President.


The opposition parties should stop being disconsolate by the ruling party’s alleged abuses of power in election administration. They should instead request the NEC to execute the Electoral Laws Act 2002 and seek sanctions for any such violation where necessary. In the event the ruling party persists and ignores the mandate of the NEC to administer election laws, the matter ought to be complained of to the United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL) The UNIOSIL was established on 1 January 2006 in accordance with Security Council resolution S/RES/1620 mandating the mission to coordinate effectively with the UN system in Sierra Leone to help the country consolidate peace and assist the Government of Sierra Leone strengthen capacity of State institutions, rule of law, human rights. The European Union which has had a generous role in funding Sierra Leonean elections should be also apprised of these creeping turn of events.
When the ruling party starts calling the shots in elections, announcing and fixing dates, the detachment and neutrality of the NEC dissipates and bias rises to in its wake to compound elections problems. In these intemperate times when the NEC is besieged by extra-constitutional Presidential authority, there is disquiet reigning among the opposition political parties that the NEC should be seen as detached and neutral in the forth coming presidential and Parliamentary elections.

Still, opposition parties need to know that unless they are proactive in monitoring violations of election laws, a governing party is bound to persist in the misconduct at its advantage. The groundwork to protest election violations which mar the free and fair election principles must be laid now or such protestation will sound hollow in the future when the NEC is made a handmaid of the ruling party to stay in power. The public should not cower under the abuses of incumbency. They should make it a civic responsibility to criticize Government or the ruling party where such breaches of election laws are evident. The Ghana Centre for Democratic Development is a typical example of citizen involvement in checking abuse of incumbency power. In the 2004 Ghanaian elections, the Centre conducted a study of appropriation of state resources and found a creeping abuse of such power. This civic responsibility should not be taken lightly because if citizens do not checkmate abuses of power, the abuser is strengthened in his license to arrogate power to himself.


The NEC has admonished all political parties to obey the sunrise of the campaign season and cease and desist from engaging in any conduct resembling campaign activity. In this twilight, the opposition political parties are waiting in earnest for the onset of the election campaign while the ruling party’s putative candidate Solomon Berewa is lumbering around the country actually campaigning under the ruse of ‘sensitisation’. The subterfuge in the use of the infelicitous coinage - SENSITISATION produces two images in artifice akin to the intrigue in Shakespeare play, Hamlet: - that the National Electoral Commission might be convinced of either fidelity or breach of election laws proscribing campaigning until the Commission so decides The NEC has yet to punish this wilful pretext for extra-constitutional campaigning by Mr. Berewa while the opposition candidates maintain obedience to the election laws at their peril. Election laws lacking teeth or sanction are mere desiderata on paper to be breached at will by those who harness the reins of power politics.

In this fashion and seizing advantage of the power of incumbency, while breaking the moratorium on campaigning, the ruling party’s candidate intentionally roams the country under colour of law as Vice President. Traveling by motorcade with dispatch riders and the trappings of the majesty of the republic and expense, Mr. Berewa ignores the NEC’s guidelines on the start of the election campaign while President Kabbah cheers him on as his “alter ego” and successor to State House. The noun, alter ego means, a person’s secondary or alternative personality or a close friend who is very like oneself, or ’other self’. President Kabbah enjoys the freedom to endorse Mr. Berewa, but when he usurps the NEC’s ambit in election administration, we suspect his hand in imposing Mr. Berewa. The political implication here is that Mr. Berewa is President Kabbah’s shadow for a third presidential term. Are we then surprised at the apprehension harbored by the opposition parties that the 2007 elections will be free and fair as President Kabbah unconstitutionally announces elections and while touting Mr. Berewa as his successor?

If Mr. Berewa breach of election laws in a masquerade of campaigning called ‘sentitisation’ is a circumstance of no importance to fawning party adherents to pacify the public in catch-penny newspapers and internet postings, it is augmented in magnitude that this trespass on the election moratorium is standard practice. Mr. Berewa’s cavalcade to Bombali District to exercise undue influence on the electors under the cognitive factor of Paramount Chiefs is an flagrant breach of Section 96 of the Electoral Laws Act of 2002. Section 96 is the progeny of the Section 86 of the Electoral Laws Act of 1962. Some 40 years since that law’s seminal enactment in 1962, it prohibits undue influence on electors, but Mr. Berewa appears to be wittingly undertaking the abhorrent violation of the spirit and letter of the law in its present form. Section 96 asserts that:

“Any person who, directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf, makes use of or threatens to make use of any force, violence or restraint, or inflicts or threatens to inflict, by himself or any other person, any temporal or spiritual injury, damage, harm or loss upon or against any person in order to induce or compel such person to vote or refrain from voting, or on count of such person having voted or refrained from voting at any election held under this Act, or who by abduction, duress or any fraudulent device or contrivance impedes or prevents the free exercise of the franchise by any elector or thereby compels, induces or prevails on any elector, either to give or to refrain from giving his vote at any such election, commits the offence of undue influence and shall be liable, upon summary conviction, to a fine of one million leones or imprisonment for a term of three years or to both such fine and imprisonment. ”

In Mr. Berewa’s case, by summoning Paramount Chiefs in the Northern Province, he implicitly engaged in conduct which “thereby compels, induces or prevails on any elector, either to give or to refrain from giving his vote at any such election,” and in accordance with Section 96 has committed the offence of undue influence.”

As reported below, it is in fear of breaking this law that the SLPP inserted an exception in the 1962 Electoral Laws Act that in the case of Paramount Chiefs, one may exercise such influence. Notwithstanding the bane of this law, Mr. Berewa and SLPP minions seem to luxuriate in the violation of this law based on their assertions in the aftermath of the infamous captive meeting with the Chiefs where Mr. Berewa contrived to gain their support for his forlorn bid to State House. Thus when confronted with complaints of the rank breach of the law, Mr. Berewa challenged his critics to point to a prohibition in the Constitution against exercising influence on Paramount Chiefs. This artifice to hide election misconduct of exercising undue influence on Paramount Chiefs need not be expressly written in the Constitution, because it is implicitly prohibited under Section 96 and Christian Thorpe ought to sanction Mr. Berewa if he persists in the invidious misconduct. Victor Reider the SLPP Propaganda Secretary, when interviewed by the media on the allegations against

Mr. Berewa for exercising undue influence, Mr. Reider, laboring under poverty of thought, justified the breach of law that Paramount Chiefs are in fact and deed ‘politicians’ because they seek election to Parliament. Mr. Reider then superfluously stated the intentional quest of the SLPP to exercise a nationwide influence on the 149 chiefdoms by claiming the North is now in the SLPP column after the Berewa forage there while the southeast of the nation “was a foregone conclusion.” This remarkable statement belies the fact that the power of incumbency works when the Vice President’s ‘sensitisation’ in the seeming political cavalcade comes into town and the Paramount Chiefs consequently wilt as they as ruffled under the influence of the majesty of the ruling party. Opposition parties have no such power or authority save the magnitude of their political gravitas or popularity.

With the 2007 election in the offing, and the ruling party exercising such grave abuse of power by wittingly breaching election laws, opposition parties are bound to harbor apprehension about fair and free election administration. A kindred violation of election law by Mr. Betrewa which has not yet become evident is the abuse of the power of incumbency. In that vein, Mr. Berewa, who is the first Vice President in the history of the nation to seek election to State House, must be admonished on the question of using Government property or his office in the election campaign. In most democracies, a President seeking re-election or Vice President seeking to succeed the President must campaign with the finances of his own political party or reimburse the Government for use of government vehicles and property. Mr. Berewa should not be permitted to expropriate government vehicles in his cavalcade on the political campaign or use his official government vehicle as a command car to exhibit the majesty of the republic to gain advantage over the opposition party candidates.

Accordingly, the Electoral Laws Act of 2002 proscribes this seeming abuse of the power of incumbency when it states under Section 118 that:
“No candidate or political party shall during the campaign period-
a. insult or defame another candidate or political party;
b. abuse or engage in the improper use of Government property for political propaganda purposes;
c. campaign in public offices or educational institutions during working hours or hours of instruction.

Thus, when section 118 says a candidates may not “ abuse or engage in the improper use of Government property for political propaganda purposes,” the use of government vehicles by a candidate who is the Vice President, is placed above the Electoral Laws Act of 2002.

What is more, it is clear from the political history of Sierra Leone that Paramount Chiefs were among the founding politicians in the nation, but time and the Constitution have placed a fence they must now straddle between and among political parties as natural leaders to ensure their detachment in national politics. One of the grave complaints following the highly contested 1967 elections in which the APC won by a hair was the politicization of the paramount chief election results in favor of the ruling party’s chances of maintaining a governing majority to remain in power. Thus, the history of exercising undue influence on Paramount Chiefs must be broadened to elucidate the point being made here.


Today, 12 paramount chiefs sit in Parliament having been elected in non-partisan elections and their electors being not from the general franchise but from a select electoral college. The conclave of Paramount chiefs is so to ensure neutrality to all political parties instead of being the grazing ground for the ruling party’s ambitions. Mr. Berewa, a catechumen to the SLPP fold and a fledgeling in Sierra Leonean power politics, he rides on the coattails of his patron at State House. He should be told that co-opting paramount chiefs in party politics, may appear to him as the standard fair of quintessential politicians or access for a political neophyte cutting his teeth in his first bid for public office, but it in fact violates the principles of political integrity established by the constitution for politicians to honour. Sir Milton Margai, the master of Machiavellian intrigue in Paramount Chief manipulation to the advantage of the SLPP, did so formally and maintained some semblance of political integrity.

As Martin Kilson tells us in his seminal work on the machinations of Sierra Leone political parties, in anticipating of the 1962 general elections, Sir Milton designed to pack the District Councils with Paramount Chiefs sympathetic to the SLPP and for the larger cause of electing them to Parliament. According to Kilson,

“There was thus a clear need to reconstitute the politically relevant local elites. The purpose of the SLPP policy of packing the District Councils with more representatives of Tribal Authorities was partly realized at the 1962 general election.”

It is understandable that Northern Paramount Chiefs would be now cowed by Mr. Berewa because they remember the grim history of Chiefs who did not toe the SLPP line were suspended or investigated by commissions of inquiry or their defeat in public elections became eminent. To this end, Kilson says, “The election [1962] resulted in the defeat of several rather advanced Chiefs, among them Koblo of Marampa Chiefdom, Port Loko District.”
Kilson elucidates this critical point of the SLPP manipulation of Paramount Chiefs in a footnote of his book by saying that:

“It is noteworthy that Paramount Chief Bai Koblo, a founding and influential member of the SLPP, did not take his defeat lightly. He showed signs of moving into open opposition to the SLPP after the 1962 general election, with the result that the SLPP government conducted an inquiry into the administration of his chiefdom and temporarily banned him from functioning as a Paramount Chief.” (Martin Kilson, Martin, “Political Change in a West African State: A Study of the Modernization Process in Sierra Leone," Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1966., Footnote 29 at page 280).
With the Berewa clamorous foraging in the north for votes at the expense of opposition parties while there is still an embargo on campaigning, the APC candidate Ernest Bai Koroma has justly protested Mr. Berewa’s out-of-season barnstorming.

Another writer on Sierra Leonean politics has deftly recounted for us the pressure tactics against Chiefs to join the SLPP bandwagon. As earlier mentioned by Martin Kilson, Sir Milton harassed Paramount Chiefs where he was unable to cavort with them for SLPP support or when he knew Paramount Chiefs were suspected in alignment with the APC. Of this well-orchestrated Sir Milton Machiavellian maneuver, John R. Cartwright writes,
“It seems significant that Dr. Margai’s only two depositions of chiefs in 1960 were of two more capable, progressive and honest chiefs in Sierra Leone, Tamba S. Mbriwa in Kono and Bai Koblo Pathbana in Port Loko. Mbriwa’s suspension in 1962 followed by one day his announcement that his SLPIM was allying with the APC, while Bai Koblo’s seems also to have involved suspension that he leaned towards the opposition party.”
Of Sir Albert’s own intrigue involving undue influence on Chiefs, Cartwright writes with muster:

“Sir Albert announced at a news conference [12 January 1965], that henceforth chiefs would be free to take part in party politics, a move whose purpose was confirmed by one Northern SLPP leader to ‘smoke out those chiefs who sympathise with the APC.” (John R. Cartwright, Political Leadership in Sierra Leone, University of Toronto Press, 1978)
Solomon Berewa has claimed that the constitution does not prohibit co-optation of Paramount Chiefs into politics. Mr. Berewa may not have looked closely at the history of election laws in Sierra Leone where the prohibition was germinal in Section 86 of the Electoral Laws Provisions Act 1962 and has flowered in the same law in Section 96 of the Electoral Laws Act 2002. But where such prohibition hitherto existed in Sierra Leonean election laws, the SLPP walked a tightrope to avoid breaking the law by carving out an exception to exercise influence on Paramount Chiefs at that party’s advantage. For instance, in the 1962 Electoral Provisions Act, there was a prohibition on the exercising of undue influence. The 1962 Act however stated this exception for Paramount Chiefs that

“A Paramount Chief may, if requested by any person ... belonging to his chiefdom, advise such person on any matter concerning that election” (Section 86).

Had this exception being carved out to talk to Paramount Chiefs, Mr. Berewa’s jaunt to Bombali District would have been a circumstance of insignificance and within the bounds of the law.

With such an adverse background, it easy to understand the hullabaloo over the Berewa disregard of the Electoral Laws Act 2002. With history as their guide, it is also understandable to see how malleable and putty Paramount Chiefs now seem in the hands of an imposing incumbent’s agent struggling and angling to enter State House deemed as a white elephant candidate, so called by his competitors at the Makeni Convention. That Paramount Chiefs have been can be cowed by Solomon Berewa’s recent quixotic ride in Bombali District, like a knight-errant to conquer the windmills of the 2007 elections is the bane of insufferable abuse of the power of incumbency.
In short, the ruling party - the SLPP is repeating today, a well-established record of intimidation and harassment of Paramount Chiefs to gain political advantage in critical elections over opposition candidates and their supporters. The question that should be wrought on the mind of every Sierra Leonean especially the leaders of the opposition parties is whether their democratic and constitutional rights to change their government or choose their leaders will be at their own behest or imposed by the whims and fancies choreographed from State House?