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Sierra Leone’s Electoral System: A Century behind Schedule

by John Kanu

In this era of technological advancement; when even someone in a remote village can transmit data in real time at the tip of his/her finger, it is very bewildering to see that vote counting and reporting take, what feels like, forever in the West African state of Sierra Leone. With a registered voter population of just 2.7 million, Sierra Leone’s National Electoral Commission has given up to ten long days to be able to compile and release election results of the just concluded multi-tier elections on November 17 that went on with little or no incidence under the watchful eyes of hundreds, if not thousands, of local and international observers and monitors. Looking at other election reporting standards and timeframes in even far more populated countries, the status quo is unacceptable and very archaic; paralleling 19th century standards! The ramifications of a power vacuum created this long after an election are far-reaching and have the potential to spiral into unintended consequences.

Almost fifty years ago, when the country experienced its first military coup in 1967, similar kinds of unwarranted electoral delay provided the perfect recipe for military adventurists to fill in the power vacuum. That was half a century ago when transistor radios and telephones were luxuries and television sets almost non-existent. That was when the means of communication were a far cry from what we have today; with very few motorable roads and fewer, slower automobiles scantily plying the routes mostly only to district headquarter towns. That is the standard we are still muddled in, unfortunately! Not even the much trumpeted biometric technology and all the national and international financing have extricated our electoral infrastructure from the quagmire of half a century ago!

If the USA with almost 200 million voter population, with 50 states, the smallest of which is the size of Sierra Leone both in geographical dimension and population, conducted their just-concluded nationwide election and announce the results the same day that votes are cast, what rationale can one give for the exponential disparity between the two systems that inhabit the same mother earth? Some will take solace in the fact that the USA is an “advanced” country and ours is a “third world” arrangement. That excuse sounds defeatist to me judging from the fact that both the technical and human resources needed for that to happen, in a comparatively small blub of land with less than 1% of voter population to that of the USA,  are not farfetched. Even whereas we may want to settle down for that parochial excuse, bringing the voter counting and reporting period to 48 to 72 hours could befit our self-piteous “third-world” status. As it were now, we are operating on a “tenth world” order!

Added to this very excruciating vote delay, the ineptitude or rather the excesses of the electoral body were exhibited by its unconstitutional and nonchalant vehicle ban on Election Day with utter disregard to the plight of the voting masses who may commute to cast their votes. This, I believe, may have disenfranchised some voters while dampening the voter enthusiasm of others. How could the whole country grind to a halt because of elections! What alternative modalities were put in place for health and other life-threatening emergencies?

In conclusion, I am making this clarion call to all stakeholders of the Sierra Leone electoral process both at home and in the international community that the electoral status quo is deplorable. The power vacuum created by this avoidable delay could be tempting in some quarters. As long as there are reasonable people there are equally stupid ones who could disregard all risks and odds and attempt to fill in that vacuum. Nobody has ever convinced me yet that coups and subversions are a past-time. Who can tell whether this delay cannot provide sufficient time to plan and execute a diabolical plot because as it were a party that may have seen the eventual outcome of the unnecessarily delayed result could set in motion a plan B. Thus rather unknowingly this electoral ineptitude could be aiding and abetting the execution of such plans.

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