Discussion Paper: Preparing for Elections in Sierra Leone

Publication Date: 
19 Dec 1999

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The signing of the Lome Peace Accord on 7 July 1999 by the Government of Sierra Leone and the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone (RUF/SL) laid the foundation for the administration of the next national elections in Sierra Leone. The Lome Accord stated that the next elections "shall be held in accordance with the present Constitution of Sierra Leone" and mandated the establishment of a new independent National Electoral Commission (NEG). To assist the people of Sierra Leone in preparing for and conducting these elections, a two-person mission from the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) travelled to Sierra Leone from 4-20 December 1999 to assess the state of election preparations and develop prioritised recommendations for strengthening elections administration and the electoral process. The mission was funded by the British Department for International Development and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

This Discussion Paper presents the summary findings of the IFES mission, which are based on the mission's extensive discussions with the Acting Chairman and staff of the Interim National Electoral Commission, representatives of political parties, officials of the Government of Sierra Leone, civil society activists and members of the international community. This Discussion Paper is meant to inform and stimulate the consultations that must take place in Sierra Leone so that elections preparations can begin and a credible and transparent electoral process can be built.  

The Government of Sierra Leone and the political parties are currently engaged in consultations regarding the composition of the new NEC. It is strongly recommended that every effort be made to ensure that the members of the NEC have the confidence of the parties and the people of Sierra Leone. Once the new NEC is established, it is further recommended that the NEC immediately convene a roundtable of the registered political parties and representatives of civil society to formally establish a permanent Consultative Committee which would meet regularly to develop the framework for the electoral process.

As is evident from this Discussion Paper, there are several fundamental issues which must be addressed and resolved so that the planning for elections can proceed:

Timing. When should the next presidential, parliamentary, Paramount Chief and local government elections take place?

Electoral system. Should the parliamentary elections be held under the national list proportional representation (as per legislative act) or the constituency-based First Past the Post system (as per the Constitution)? Is there another option that would best suit the needs of Sierra Leone?

Legal framework. What should be the legal framework for these elections? Should Sierra Leone develop a universal election law to incorporate the various, and sometimes contradictory, instruments which currently constitute the legal framework?

The Consultative Committee should address and resolve these and other fundamental issues pertaining to the electoral process in the immediate term.

In addition, to prepare for the conduct of the elections, the new National Electoral Commission will require the immediate technical support of the international community in the form of the provision of technical elections advisors. Further, the independence and the professional capacity of the Commission should be enhanced by developing the Commission's Self-Accounting Status and by re-organising the staff structure of the Commission. As the electoral framework is developed, the Commission will need to establish its operational plan and will need to seek financial and material assistance from the government of Sierra Leone and the international community to implement this plan.

As the key stakeholders in Sierra Leone work to develop the electoral framework for the upcoming elections, clearly the post-conflict environment in the country will have to be considered. As the resources of the government of Sierra Leone and the international community are focused toward the implementation of the peace plan and the rehabilitation of the nation's devastated infra-structure, limited resources will be available for the conduct of the elections. Additionally, issues such as potential insecurity, mistrust, and other ramifications of long-term civil strife will have to be considered in the design of the electoral process and the timing of the elections.

The method by which the Sierra Leonean people develop the electoral framework is as important as the design of the framework itself. Transparent and inclusive consultations will serve to ensure the credibility of the electoral process, and the practice of good governance in the conduct of the elections will be an invaluable contribution toward the development of a sustainable peace and a strong democracy in Sierra Leone.

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