Addressing Election Integrity in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone’s incumbent President, Julius Maada Bio, was somewhat surprising when he announced that he had garnered over 56 percent of the votes in the recent election. It was expected that he would be re-elected in the first round, as he needed over 55 percent. However, the country’s direction seems to be headed in the wrong direction, with 67 percent of Sierra Leoneans believing that their country is in the wrong direction. With the general election on June 24th, there was an expected surge of “change” in the votes, which triggered popular protests that were met with a deadly response from the state. Over the past year, these conditions have led to widespread insecurity, high rates of food insecurity, unemployment, and poverty. Life has been hard for the people of Sierra Leone.

Surprise has replaced alarm. International observers, who are typically quite mild in their assessments, have raised concerns about the process. The EU Observation Mission has highlighted “statistical inconsistencies” in the reported results. The United States and several European ambassadors, in a joint statement, have expressed concern over “the lack of transparency in the tabulation process,” while also urging all parties to exercise restraint. Domestic observers from the experienced organization National Elections Watch have discovered “major disparities” between their Parallel Vote Tabulation and the official results. There have been reports of threats and harassment against some members of NEW for their efforts.

The major opposition party has demanded that re-run elections be held in the region, as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has struggled to respond to the problems and difficulties in the third-term bids, but the Good Governance and Democracy Protocol has notably been quiet since it issued a preliminary statement on June 26.

If the election was rigged, what is to be done about it? Is it about what is to be done to ensure that the concerns of parties are pursued through the courts and the importance of calm is emphasized in these situations, according to the standard playbook for external actors like the United States? However, Leone Sierra champions democracy simply cannot point toward a potential judicial process on and then. According to Leonians Sierra, only 32 percent trust the courts “on lot” or “somewhat”.

The democratic governance process should be supported by champions of civic engagement who deserve meaningful support. It is important to make it tough enough to have consequences with undesirable and unfair election-rigging. The lack of integrity in elections only increases the chances of unconstitutional power transfers and dims the prospects for sustainable growth. Both Sierra Leone and the ECOWAS region need the courage to accept their convictions and approach future elections with the hope of building a better future, rather than fearing a return to the past. It is not enough for conflict aversion to be the sole focus, as it does not serve the well-being of states that have emerged from horrific conflicts. Leaders should be held accountable for their performance, and citizens should have a real relationship with the political theater, rather than eroding democracy by misrepresenting it. Elections that are transparent, fair, and free should not only be celebrated, but also seen as a solution to the problems, rather than just a “peaceful and inclusive” name.