At a press conference in Freetown,today (Wednesday 20 February) to deliver the EU Election Observation Mission’s Final Report, EU Chief Election Observer Richard Howitt MEP, gave the following statement:
I am Richard Howitt, Member of the European Parliament, Chief Observer for the European Union at the elections in Sierra Leone, joined by Tania Marques, Deputy Chief Observer and Javier Guttierez, Media Analyst and Press Officer.
This morning I am pleased to present the Final Report of the European Union Election Observation Mission. In this very room, some of you will remember that we delivered the preliminary assessment of the European Union two days after polling – and that we said the elections were “well-conducted, conducive to democratic consolidation but where the playing field was un-level”. In this report, we do not change this assessment.
Instead, the sixty pages and thirty-one detailed recommendations of the report are about what happens next. How future elections can be improved. How democracy can be consolidated in Sierra Leone.
The challenge remains for the elections here to be more open and inclusive, and to win greater confidence amongst the political parties but also within the wider population.
Our recommendations include suggestions for constitutional and legal change, to promote participation, openness, to better resolve disputes, to better regulate the funding of campaigns, to take further measures to protect the integrity of the process and to maintain and consolidate non-violence.
First, constitutional and Legal Change.
We say the right to participate in public affairs would be strengthened by constitutional amendments on citizenship to broaden the right to stand for election, to allow independent candidates to run for the presidency and by removing reservations against equality for women. We suggest amending the Public Elections Act to reduce restrictions on standing for elections for employees of the public service.
Second, Promoting participation in elections.
We call for legislation to promote the participation of women in political parties and as candidates.
We reaffirm our call for strengthened civic and voter education and, recognising levels of illiteracy in the country, for candidates to be grouped on the ballot paper by party.
We call for assistive facilities including a return to tactile ballots, to better enable people with disabilities to vote.
We reaffirm that arrangements should be made to respect the rights of prisoners to vote, particularly those on remand.
Third, more open and transparent Elections.
We call for the publication of an electoral calendar so that all stages of the process with deadlines are known in advance. We recommend that there is progressive announcement of Presidential election results from around the country, and that full results by polling stations are published.
We also suggest that minutes of the meetings of the National Electoral Commission are themselves published.
The media also have an important role to play in securing openness in elections and we support efforts towards agreeing a Freedom of Information Bill and reaffirm our call to SLBC to fulfil its obligations as a public service broadcaster.
Fourth, better resolving disputes.
To be effective, we call on the judicial system of the country to ensure that objections to nominations and appeals including petitions against results themselves are resolved in a time period so that the outcome does not prejudice the rights of those involved or the election process itself.
Fifth, better regulation of the funding of campaigns.
We are sensitive to the economic realities of Sierra Leone. But we suggest the PPRC should be given a greater role to monitor campaign finance and the use of public resources. We call for the order on nomination fees to be repealed or replaced.
And we suggest some state funding for political parties could be considered, proportionate to the votes received in the previous national elections, as part of efforts to help training and capacity-building within political parties themselves.
We call on international political foundations also to help in this respect.
Sixth, the integrity of the ballot.
I remind you that our preliminary assessment was that this was sufficiently protected.
However, we say it could be enhanced by amending the Public Elections Act to remove the obligation to put serial numbers on ballot papers.
We also call for the achievements of the biometric voters register to be sustained, by ensuring it is updated on a periodic basis.
Seventh, and very importantly, in welcoming that these elections were largely peaceful, we believe the efforts towards non-violence should be sustained at future elections too.
The campaigns for non-violence, some involving the parties themselves, were clearly influential and we recommend that they should be repeated.
In addition, we acknowledge that there were differing levels of confidence in the security services at these elections from different political parties and in the wider population.
We call for confidence-building activities by the security forces with the political parties to be continued, and have already received support for this suggestion from the Inspector-General of your Police Force.
Ladies and Gentlemen, confidence between the political parties and in the population and the strong desire to prevent any return to conflict have indeed been key challenges at these elections.
The European Union Election Observation Mission has had its own Mission – to provide independent and objective analysis. Each and every one of our recommendations is offered to you today in the same spirit.
I thank you once again the 100 European colleagues who have taken part in our work, and the European Union countries who we represent and whose diplomatic representatives are present with us within in this room. We call the European Union and others in the international community to themselves adopt these recommendations and to continue to work in partnership with this country to seek to implement them in our joint endeavours to promote principles of democracy, good governance and universal human rights. But most of all, I thank and wish success to the people and organisations of Sierra Leone. Ultimately, the future for democracy in this country is in your hands.
We hope our ideas and suggestions will be of service to you, and support your own efforts to build a future which is fair, peaceful and democratic for all.
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