Sierra Leone Pre-Election Assessment, November 1995
In August 1995, INEC sponsored a National Consultative Conference on the electoral process. The overwhelming consensus of the meeting was that Sierra Leone should return to multi-party democracy and constitutional government through an electoral process as soon as possible. Several key decisions regarding this transition were made by the Conference, including the adoption of a national constituency proportional representation electoral system for selecting members of parliament and the recommendation of February 26, 1996 as the date for both presidential and parliamentary elections. These decisions have been publicly supported by the Chairman of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC), Captain Valentine Strasser, both in Sierra Leone and during his recent visit to the United States and during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in New Zealand.
The primary difficulty faced by INEC is the lack of a legal framework for the electoral process. Decrees covering the franchise, voter registration and the election of members of parliament were drafted by INEC and forwarded to the government prior to the National Conference. As of Nov 16, 1995 no action had been taken by the government of Sierra Leone towards the enactment of the decrees. Decrees specifying the election of the president and the agreed change of electoral system from single-member constituency, first-past-the-post to national constituency, proportional representation are currently being drafted by the Attorney General's office.
A second major problem faced by the Commission is an overall lack of resources, especially financial resources. Financial limitations have greatly restricted INEC's ability to conduct voter and civic education activities and essential pre-planning, coordination and training functions. The Commission also requires outside technical expertise in the areas of election administration and logistics, transportation and communications planning, and computer systems.
The general level of planning for the elections requires substantial improvement in the very near future if all of the interrelated tasks required -- both legally and administratively -- to hold elections in three months are to be completed on time. While the uncertainty regarding the legal framework and a severe lack of funds makes such planning difficult, the need for a comprehensive plan identifying what needs to be done, by whom, when, where, how, and at what cost must be developed as soon as possible so that when funding becomes available the Commission is able to act in an expeditious and cost-effective manner.
Given the critical nature of these elections to the future of Sierra Leone and the highly uncertain environment in which they will take place, contingency plans for mission-critical tasks are necessary. Such mission-critical issues would include: the production of a voter registration list; development of the Commission's capacity to distribute materials and personnel to areas outside of Freetown; and the establishment of nation-wide communication links for both administrative and security reasons.
The IFES team has serious reservations regarding the technical feasibility of the computerized voter registration system planned by the Commission. Given the obvious constraints of time, money, equipment and technical expertise, the immediate design and implementation of a handwritten voter register as a contingency plan is essential. Reservations regarding the methodology for data collection and related personnel and training issues also exist, but with additional planning, should be more easily resolved.
IFES maintains that INEC is committed to conducting elections in late February 1996. Their commitment to the democratic process as the most viable way forward for Sierra Leone is shared by a broad consensus of the Sierra Leoneans as well as by many in the National Provisional Ruling Council government. From a purely technical perspective, the prospects of INEC being able to conduct credible elections in February 1996 are good if the following three conditions are met as soon as possible:
1. The legal framework for the registration and electoral process formalized;
2. International and domestic financial and technical support for INEC is mobilized;
3. Detailed, comprehensive planning for the registration and election is completed by INEC as soon as possible, so that when conditions 1 and 2 are met, the Commission is able to immediately proceed towards election day.
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