By John Okeke
Sierra Leone’s March 7 general elections were generally peaceful and credible, the ECOWAS Election Observation Mission has said in its Preliminary Declaration.
“The preparation for the 2018 elections, the conduct of the campaigns, as well as the processes on Election Day, up until the release of the results of the four elections at the polling stations, were free, fair, and credible,” the 65-member ECOWAS Mission, headed by Prof. Amos Sawyer, Liberia’s former Interim President said in the nine-page Declaration he read at a Press Conference in Freetown on Thursday 8 March.
The Mission noted some challenges including the “presence of heavily armed military men at one polling centre”, the effects of the restriction on vehicular movement in the urban areas, and police presence at the collation centre of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), which was eventually resolved.
However, the Mission said the challenges observed “do not diminish the transparency, fairness or the credibility of the electoral process at this point in time.”
Prof Sawyer said the “vast majority of qualified Sierra Leonean population,” who wished to vote or be voted for was provided the required space to exercise their constitutional rights.
The Mission “will continue to closely monitor the concluding phases of the electoral process, in particular the transmission of the results and supporting materials to the National Tallying Center, as well as the processing and declaration of provisional results” the Declaration said.
The Mission urged the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to release results of the presidential, parliamentary and local council polls as soon as possible and also cautioned against “speculating on or declaring unofficial results.”
The ECOWAS Mission called on all candidates and their supporters to continue to respect due process and the rule of law, and also urged “resort only to legal means to seek redress of any grievances emanating from the electoral process.”
In his remarks, ECOWAS new Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Gen. Francis Behanzin congratulated Sierra Leoneans for their political maturity in holding four important elections on the same day.
He said the feat and successful elections in other member countries would serve as a reference point for the consolidation of democracy in the region.
The conference was attended by other International Observation groups, including ex-president John Mahama (Commonwealth) and former president Kgalame Motlanthe (AU)
Also present were Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas, head of UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, members of the diplomatic corps, NEC Sierra Leone Chair Mohamed Alie-Conteh and Cllr. Yvette Chesson-Wureh, International President of the Women’s Situation Room,
NEC has called for patience on the release of official results, explaining that presidential run-off vote will take place two weeks after the announcement of the results, if none of the 16 candidates wins the mandatory 55% votes in the first round.