The European Union’s Chief Observer for Sierra Leone’s 2023 general elections has called for a peaceful conduct of the electoral process as she unveiled her team ahead of the June 24 voting.
Evin Incir said Sierra Leoneans are ultimately responsible for how conducive the environment will be to enable everyone participate in line with the country’s laws and regional and international commitments.
“It is a joint responsibility of all political parties, candidates, civil society organizations, media and the electoral administration to maintain that peaceful pre-election environment in which the fundamental rights and freedom of all Sierra Leoneans are respected,” she said.
Ms Incir is heading a total of 100 observers as part of the European Union Elections Observation Mission (EOM). She spoke at the maiden press briefing of the mission on Tuesday, where she stressed the need for a transparent electoral process.
“Transparency is important for each and every stage of the election. It is also one of the core values of our election observation mission,” she told journalists at the Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel in Aberdeen, Freetown.
This will be the fifth elections since Sierra Leone emerged from its civil war in 2002. And it will be the fifth time the EU will be deploying a team to observe the process.
This mission comprises a core team of 10 election experts who arrived in the country on May 11th. According to Incir, who arrived on May 18, a second team of 28 long-term observers arrived on 20 May and are due to be deployed across the 16 districts of the country to observe elections preparations, campaigns and conduct of the electoral stakeholders. She added that closer to the elections, 40 more short term observers will arrive in the country to observe voting, counting and tabulation of results. Also expected in the country is a delegation of the European parliament, as part of the short-term observers.
In addition, 10 locally recruited observers from diplomatic missions of EU member states accredited to Sierra Leone will be deployed on election day to help broaden the scope of the mission, said Incir.
“At full strength, our mission will compose of approximately 100 observers drawn from 26 European member states but also including Canada and Norway,” she said.
A Member of the European Parliament, Ms Incir’s appointment as Chief Observer was confirmed in a press statement quoting the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell stressing the importance for a credible electoral process in Sierra Leone. Mr Borrell said that the deployment of the fifth mission confirmed EU’s long-term commitment to supporting competitive, transparent and peaceful elections in the West African nation.
“Over the last 21 years, Sierra Leoneans have built a hard-won peace. The forthcoming elections will be crucial for the future of the country as well as for the West Africa region,” he said.
At the press conference, Ms Incir outlined the mandate of her mission, which included observing the legal framework and implementation, the work of the election administrators, campaign activities of political parties, the role of civil society and various state institutions, including the judiciary, and media coverage of the electoral process.
When they turn up at the polls on June 24th, Sierra Leoneans will be deciding on the fate of incumbent President Julius Maada Bio who is running for his second and final term of office. They will also be voting for parliamentarians, as well as local councilors.
Bio is being challenged by 12 other candidates, including Dr Samura Kamara, his main challenger in the 2018 elections.
Campaigns for the elections officially commenced on Tuesday, as per the electoral calendar published by the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL). They come amid mounting tensions and fears of violence. The tensions have been exacerbated by concerns from the opposition about the possibility of a free and fair process.
Among the major concerns for the main opposition APC in particular is the integrity of the long delayed final voter register.
Ms Incir, who arrived in the country on Saturday, May 20, has held several meetings with key players in the political scene. She told ManoReporters in an interview on the sidelines of the presser that her meetings were meant to give her team a “holistic view” of work being done to enable them prepare a “thorough, impartial and independent” report at the end of the process.
She therefore wouldn’t comment on the process until when she presents the mission’s preliminary statement and assessment two days after the elections, noting that they couldn’t possibly give a fair assessment of the process in the frame of just a couple of days of observation.
The EU’s Chief Observer also sought to assure Sierra Leoneans that the Mission is independent in its work and findings, citing the key guiding principles underpinning all EU elections observation missions, which she said stresses on the independence of their work and findings.
The EU deploys observers in elections globally with the primary objective of supporting the democratic process in partner countries, enhance public confidence in the electoral processes and contribute to upholding the respect for human rights and rule of law, she said.