Freetown – The elections in Sierra Leone last June suffered from a lack of transparency, political violence and statistical inconsistencies, a damning report from European Union observers has found.
The 83-page report, which was presented to President Julius Maada Bio this week, notes that “voters’ trust in the credibility of [the] elections was undermined by lack of transparency during critical stages of the process, particularly during the tabulation process, and by significant statistical inconsistencies in the results”.
Bio was re-elected in the first round of voting on 24 June with around 56 percent of the ballots, according to results released by the electoral commission.
The opposition All People’s Congress has disputed the results and refused to participate in local or national government.
Speaking to journalists at a press conference to launch the report, chief observer Evin Incir said that “political violence shrank the space of political participation”, adding that members of the EU mission had witnessed the problem in at least six districts.
She said that they also saw “disproportionate use of force by security agencies on several occasions”, adding that “violence has no place in elections, neither here in Sierra Leone nor anywhere else on the globe”.
The report added that “an independent citizen observer group which voiced concerns was threatened [forcing] its leadership to flee the country, which is indicative of democratic backsliding”.
On the tabulation of results, which has been one of the most contentious issues, Incir said that the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) had not allowed either citizen or EU observers to monitor the crucial process. Nor did it publish the disaggregated result data, she said.
“[This] lack of transparency and limitation on independent scrutiny leaves space for doubt and stains an election,” Incir said.
“The elections highlighted an urgent need for reforms to enhance transparency and inclusion.”
The EU report contains 21 recommendations, including the publication of the final voter registry for every polling station, establishing a robust and transparent results processing system, and publishing comprehensive results and data for every polling station online.
The EU also encourages protecting candidates from violence, restricting the use of state resources for political gain and protecting freedom of expression online and offline.
EU EOM Sierra Leone published its final report, giving a comprehensive, evidence-based account on the 2023 elections and offering 21 recommendations aimed at improving the way elections are organised, managed, and conducted in the future.Full report pic.twitter.com/5SxEyYjdk1– EU EOM Sierra Leone 2023 (@eueomsl2023) October 10, 2023
Incir noted, however, the increased number of women in office, who now make up 30 percent of parliament, as well as Sierra Leone’s first ever national fact-checking initiative.
Responding to the EU report, Vice President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh accused it of political bias.
“In my view, the report is skewed more towards a political understanding of the elections rather than a technical understanding,” he wrote on social media, claiming that the observers lacked evidence for their assertions.
This morning, I received the EU Election Observation Mission’s Final Report on the Sierra Leone General Elections 2023.I shared with the Chief Observer and her team my initial thoughts on the report. In my view, the report is skewed more towards a political understanding of the… pic.twitter.com/WKdpPljkHt– Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh (@VP_Jalloh) October 11, 2023
Asked about the APC’s allegations against the ruling SLPP party, Incir insisted: “We do not take any stand for any party. What we do is we observe.”
The APC has refused to take its seats in parliament or mount a legal challenge in the courts, insisting on outside intervention to solve the political crisis.
Teams from the Commonwealth, Ecowas and African Union are currently in the capital Freetown to mediate between the two main parties.
Meetings facilitated by the Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion are also expected to begin this weekend.