Tuesday, August 14, 2012

National Electoral Commission Becoming A Barrier to Sierra Leone Democracy.

Electoral Commissioner Christiana Thorpe
The great democratic strides that have been achieved in post conflict Sierra Leone are currently on the verge of being seriously undermined not by political parties, lawless entities or thugs, but apparently by the very institution which has as its mandate the promotion of democratic ideals and representative government, the National Electoral Commission ( NEC).

When in 2007 the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) which was the ruling party at the time pled no contest to the nullification of thousands of votes in its electoral strongholds that effectively handed over power to the opposition APC, the whole world heaved a collective sigh of relief to see a peaceful transfer of power from the government to the opposition All Peoples Congress party. Though there was a lot of discontent amongst the rank of SLPP supporters, president Ahmed Tejan Kabba decided to abide by the ruling of the NEC in order to avoid post electoral conflict and ensure respect for the mandate of the electoral commission by future political entities and individuals.
APC's Sanitation Policy
Get the Pigs Out

There was therefore a feeling in 2007 that Sierra Leone and by extension Africa was now truly on the path of real democracy, where the leaders of the society would be chosen by the people in contests that were not only free and fair, but also encouraged the active participation of all; the poor, the rich, women, youths and the disabled. There was an assurance that the voice of the majority would no longer be drowned out by the machinations of the powerful minority.
If however current trends in Sierra Leone are any indication of the fate of democracy in the country, then Sierra Leone is presently on the threshold of reversing each and every democratic gain that has been made since 1996, and the NEC is happy to go along for the ride to ensure that this happens, as the agents and proponents of Sierra Leone's one party dictatorship, the APC, are at the helm of power once again.
A land of Indescribable Beauty

Adding to the many threats to democracy that is already being institutionalized by the APC;  the importation of arms by foreign diamond businessmen for the government, the legalization of arms in the hands of civilians and groups that are approved by the government, the threat of armed intimidation of the opposition by the interior minister, the introduction of the cash for good news policy that is now the bedrock of the country's journalism, and so on, the NEC has stepped into the mix and muddied the waters by a series of strange behaviors since the electoral commissioner began receiving lavish praise from APC propaganda outlets, and was given a take home pay that was equivalent to comparable pay scales anywhere in the world, including developed western economies.
Killing Democracy

The first sign of trouble at the NEC occurred immediately after the elections in 2007 when electoral commissioners that were viewed unfavorably by the new government of Ernest Koroma were hounded out of office for alleged loyalties and ties to the opposition.

Sometime early this year, an article appeared in the online unofficial APC propaganda outlet Cocorioko in which a smiling Kabbs Kanu, the leading APC paid diaspora propagandist and the electoral Commissioner Christiana Thorpe were pictured with the caption that he has met his hero, a woman he ridiculed, demeaned and condemned when his APC government was still in opposition.
Angels and Demons

Immediately after this it was announced that the biometric voter registration process in the country had not only been deeply flawed, but there were problems with missing registration information, under registration in opposition strongholds and many other technical defects and foreigners were bused into the country to register, inflating the vote in the north, the stronghold of APC.

Then it was suddenly announced that the electoral commissioner's pay had  received a massive boost, effectively making her one of the highest paid individuals on the African continent, in a country in which the average citizen subsists on less than a dollar a day.

Just a few weeks after the pay increase which put the electoral commissioner amongst the ranks of African royalty, the NEC came out with candidate fees for the general elections that effectively barred over 80% of people in the country from ever being able to vie for elected office in the country, by requiring candidates to fork over millions of leones or thousands of dollars to the NEC as candidate fees in a country where majority of the people only see dollars in Hollywood films. The lame excuse given was that NEC had to come up with money to conduct the elections.
Preparing for Hague

After much outrage by civil groups, political parties and individuals who wondered at the timing of the announcement so close to the elections, the NEC climbed down a little, but independent observers are already complaining that even the existing fee modifications are discriminatory against the less privileged and are calling for a further reduction of the draconian fees and consultation with civil groups before such controversial moves are made by the NEC in the future.

Regardless of what happens, the NEC has now found itself in an unfortunate position of being viewed by many as a major threat to the country's nascent democracy as it has shown wanton disregard for the earning capabilities of important political entities like teachers, the youths, women and the handicapped. In essence NEC is now viewed along with the APC as the main agents of democratic reversal in the country.

The only thing for the opposition to do at this moment is to keep their eyes on the APC and the electoral commission very closely. APC has failed the people miserably with hunger in the streets and poverty hitting the people like a category 5 hurricane. The people are hungry and urgent for change. They are tired of the shame and scandal brought on by a fraudulent vice president who will scam people in the dry season and then go to Mecca in the rainy season pretending he is a good Muslim. The people desire change and every effort should be made to ensure that the desire of the people is respected. 

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