Sierra Leone: Election body says police obstructing their work, police say investigating fraud
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Sierra Leonean police are obstructing the work of the electoral commission in organising the country’s presidential second round runoff election, according to the National Electoral Commission (NEC). However, the police have denied they intimidated the electoral commission, saying they are investigating election irregularities. Voters are expected to go to the polls on 27 March to choose between opposition leader Julius Maada Bio and the ruling party’s Samura Kamara.
“Police officers have unwarrantedly entered NEC premises, unannounced, at random, interrogating NEC staff,” Albert Massaquoi, a spokesperson for NEC, told RFI. “The work of the commission is being obstructed, especially when staff are doing their daily duties.”
Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) took 43 per cent of the vote in the 7 March election, while Kamara of the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) party secured 42 per cent of the ballots.
“It’s delaying the process,” said Massaquoi, referring to the NEC’s preparations for the runoff vote and alleged obstruction by the police. “Because the Sierra Leonean police is having so much engagement with us – unsystematic and confrontational at times – it’s a cause of concern on the part of the commission.”
“The Sierra Leone police should refrain from such actions that may obstruct the electoral activities,” Massaquoi added, pointing out that the electoral commission recognises the important role the police plays in securing the voting process.
The police spokesperson said that these allegations were “absolutely untrue” and they are in fact investigating alleged election irregularities.
“Currently we’re investigating over 200 cases related to electoral malpractices,” Ibrahim Samura, police spokeperson, told RFI. “Some of these cases involve NEC officials,” he added.
Samura said that officers had visited the NEC offices to question an electoral commission official. But the official in question was not available, the police spokesperson said, so the officers eventually left.
“We’re very surprised to learn that NEC put out a press release indicating that their personnel were being intimidated by members of the police,” Samura said.
The police spokesperson said that it was necessary for the security forces to investigate the allegations of malpractice since those claims involve NEC officials themselves.
“We had no alternative but to interrogate those officials,” said Samura. “We have never intimidated NEC, not at all, we only went to NEC to ensure that we carry our legitimate responsibilities and that is to interrogate their staff based on allegations of electoral malpractice.”
The third-placed candidate has refused to endorse either of the two main contenders for the runoff vote. Kandeh Yumkella of the newly-formed National Grand Coalition (NGC) took almost 7 per cent in the first round.
“We want our party to survive, we want to build to provide a strong opposition in parliament and outside of parliament,” Julius Spencer, a spokesperson for NGC, told RFI.
“We believe that if we endorse either of the two parties, whichever one wins, it’s going to make it difficult for us to be able to hold that position,” said Spencer.
Spencer also said that history demonstrates that smaller parties who enter into deals with other parties tend to wither away.
“We’ve seen the history of parties endorsing, joining or going into coalition with other parties – the smaller one usually dies,” Spencer added. “That’s happened a number of times in Sierra Leone – we want our party to survive, thrive and be effective,” he said in a telephone interview.
The electoral commission is facing a court case aiming to delay the runoff vote over alleged irregularities in the first round.
Ibrahim Sorie Koroma, a lawyer and member of the APC, filed the case on Wednesday. He said he submitted it as a private individual and not on behalf of the ruling party because it was “the right thing to do”.
“I have asked the court if there’s a way – and this is what we think - that the election be delayed for a couple of days so that we will deal with the issues,” Koroma told RFI.
“If the election proceeds and the concerns are not addressed, then we’re playing a dangerous game,” he added, listing allegations of vote-rigging, ballot box stuffing and the arrest of electoral commission officials.
The electoral commission had ordered a recount of certain polling stations before the announcement of the first round results.