Friday, May 23, 2008

Doubts over peaceful elections

By Sahr Morris Jr. and Kevin Hill
May 15, 2008

In an effort to promote non-violent local council elections this July, the Political Parties and Registration Commission (PPRC) and United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL) Tuesday hosted a nonpartisan inter-party discussion.

Despite prositive dialog between five political parties, the Sierra Leone Police, the National Commission for Democracy and the National Electoral Commission, the actions and words of some executives of political parties have cast some doubt on the process.

Secretary General of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) Jacob Jusu Saffa told Concord Times yesterday that his party promises to remain peaceful, but “if one hits at us, we will also hit at him”.

This pre-emptive threat of retaliatory violence demonstrates the escalating tension under the surface of the upcoming elections.

According to UNIOSIL the parties “underscored their commitment to the holding of peaceful local council elections, as well as the need for complete compliance with the PPRC and NEC code of conduct”.

PPRC public relations officer Paul Kamara said the two leading political parties, the All Peoples Congress (APC) and SLPP, still have not followed the commission’s rules and regulations as both have failed to submit their financial reports despite numerous warnings and postponement of deadlines.

“There has not been any compliance. We have issued a number of warnings, but there have not been any action”, he said.

The commission is not left with the prospect of issuing sanctions against those parties, including sending recommendations for action to the Supreme Court.

In addition, the closure or disconnection of the SLPP Radio Unity by the APC government, widely seen as a political maneuver prior to the local council elections, demonstrates a lack of commitment on the part of the government to free and fair elections.

Secretary General of the Sierra Leone Journalists Association, Ibrahim Karim Sei, believed the closure of the SLPP radio station was detrimental to the fragile democracy in the country.

“In modern democracy, the voice of the opposition is required” he said, adding that without freedom of speech there can be no democracy and that “the government is not above the law”.

Head of the public relations unit of the NEC, Miatta French, when asked about the inter-party dialog said, “the commission is satisfied with the process so far”, as the working relationship between the NEC and the political parties has been cordial.

Victor Foh of the APC, when contacted for this story, said dismissively “see me some other time – I have nothing to say.”

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