Sierra Leone
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IRI, NDI, CSOs launch “ELECT” project

Stakeholders present during the launch of ELECT at the ECSL conference room

By Alhaji Haruna Sani

With funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute alongside Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have officially launched the project -‘Ensuring Locally-led Elections are Credible and Transparent’ (ELECT).

The event was organized at the Electoral Commission Conference Hall on Tower Hill on February 16th 2023.

Ambassador of the United States to Sierra Leone, Ambassador David Reimer said he was elated to see such important event hosted by ECSL Sierra Leone, adding that the event will ensure strong connection between the objectives of the ELECT activity and the conduct of free and fair elections in Sierra Leone

“This is a gathering of leading election management bodies, government institutions, civil societies and the media to highlight our common positions on the importance of transparent and credible elections. I am particularly pleased to see the implementation is led by two US organisations – IRI and NDI. These two organizations represent a bipartisan US approach to the promotion of democracy and an excellent example of inter party collaboration,” he said.

He added that the ELECT activity is a party of the US progrmmee to strengthen democratic institutions and processes that are inclusive, transparent and responsive to the population.

Ambassador Reimer said the US believes that credible and transparent elections which reflect the will of the people are crucial to the development of Sierra Leone’s democratic and development aspiration. “Election should be free, fair and peaceful. All citizens have the right to vote and all votes should be counted”.

He concluded by officially launching the ELECT activity in Sierra Leone.

Giving an overview of the launch event, Joseph Jimmy Sankaituah , Resident Director of IRI for Sierra Leone and Gambia, said the project is implemented by the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute alongside specialized Civil Society Organisations.

He informed the gathering that ELECT project was born out of the commitment of the USAID to support the 2023 elections in Sierra Leone through the Consortium for Election and political process strengthening, which was a sixteen month project that began in December 2022, to further support the 2023 elections.

He said the project will be focusing on key electoral reforms education, civic and voter education, violence mitigation and promoting non-violence election by employing long-term security observers to monitor and report incidences of violence, improve citizens’ awareness of the policy priorities of candidates through debates, citizens’ observation groups, capacity building for CSOs and actively engaging media institutions.

“It is our anticipation that the ELECT project will be a mechanism to assemble CSOs and all stakeholders within the electoral space to coordinate and collaborate more effectively to support the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone and other Election Management Bodies (EMBs) in the execution of their responsibilities to the People of Sierra Leone,” he said.

Sankaituah went on to state that the event was intended to officially announce to Sierra Leoneans that IRI and NDI have joined others to support the process with a USSD 1.5 million grant from USAID.

On behalf of USAID Country Representative, Abdulai Sesay noted that the USAID office in Sierra Leone and the United States Embassy were excited to support the implementation of ELECT as an activity that will scale-up initiatives by promoting citizens’ peaceful participation and engagement in political processes and good governance to prevent electoral violence before, during and after Sierra Leone’s crucial June 2023 elections.

Some of the objectives of the program, he said, were to strengthen civil society capacity and the work of the Electoral Management Bodies by providing citizens and particularly women, youth, and other marginalized groups, with accurate and reliable information on electoral processes and reforms through civic and voter education.

He maintained that another objective is to also mitigate the potential for electoral violence through initiatives to reduce disinformation, counter hate speech, and promote peaceful cohesion before, during, and after elections, including through alternative dispute resolution strategies that are rooted in local communities.

“In particular, there is a need to counter forces that manipulate youth into instruments of violence as an alternative to ineffective legal and judicial institutions. This can be facilitated by engaging the youth to peacefully participate in electoral processes as leaders of voter education whose voices will strengthen public support for peaceful elections,” he said.

He said the recent legal and institutional reforms relating to electoral processes, including the transition to a Proportional Representation system of voting for parliamentary and local council elections make the need for civic and voter education even more pressing.

He continued that the next few months leading up to the June 2023 elections will be an important period for bolstering citizens’ engagement in constructive, peaceful dialogue to ensure that Sierra Leone maintains its history of peaceful elections.

He told the gathering that civil society engagement in and oversight of electoral processes will also be essential to ensure public understanding and confidence in the Electoral Management Bodies and the reforms they are instituting.

In his statement, President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla said in today’s world, media play a huge role in elections, adding that it is the primary source of information for voters and can shape public opinion.

President Nasralla noted that media can influence the outcome of an election by providing information about the candidates and their policies, as well as by providing a platform for candidates to express their views.

On the contrary, he said media can also be used to spread hate and false information, and manipulate public opinion to the wrong end.

“The media has always been a partner but somehow our efforts have largely gone unrecognised, in the sense that most people and organisations/institutions as well, only see the media as a tool for information dissemination. But we believe that the media is a partner and key player in elections and beyond. So, we cannot be an afterthought,” he said.

He said in this year’s elections, it is going to be different because the country will be going using a different system altogether – a combination of PR systems.

“What system are we using for the Presidential elections? What system are we using for Local Government elections? What specific system are we using for Parliamentary and Councilors elections? What are the thresholds for election to Council and Parliament? How can independent candidates compete in these elections?,” he questioned.

He urged the relevant authorities to do the needful by educating edia practioners and citizens on voter education.

In his statement, Mohamed Kenewui Konneh, ECSL Chairman said the name of the project is similar to the vision of the commission which is to be an independent, credible and well-resourced institution which promotes democracy and good governance.

“Our mantra at the ECSL is to conduct peaceful, credible and acceptable elections. I will like to commend the, IRI, NDI for their confidence in CSOs,” he stated.

He said engagement has already started with stakeholders on ensuring that citizens are accurately and adequately educated on new electoral system.

This election is not the same as we had in 1996 and 2002, which was only for Parliament, and 1996 it was the national block and 2002 District Block PR system. This year the elections are more complicated.