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The road ahead for Sierra Leone’s tripartite committee

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It’s already February 2024, and Sierra Leone is still trying to fix the remnants of a closely fought June 2023 election. The aftermath has been anything but friendly and peaceful. Boycotts, mistrust, press releases, meetings, and communiques have all been part of a very tedious process to restore the country’s democratic integrity.

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Sierra Leone’s June 2023 election was the fifth general election since the end of the civil war in 2002. The main opposition,  All Peoples Congress (APC), disputed the outcome with its Presidential candidate, Samura Kamara, criticising the electoral commission while discrediting the results. 

On the other end of the election pendulum, President Julius Maada Bio was declared the winner by the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL), giving him a mandate for his second term with 56% of the votes cast

Consequently, the APC refused to take their case to court and announced a boycott of the democratic process. In a country where political power is almost shared in half by the two leading parties, local councils and Parliament could not function optimally. 

In October last year, a deal was brokered by ECOWAS, AU, and Commonwealth representatives, which saw the opposition roll back on its boycott stands while a committee with a threeway leadership structure was set to review the election and suggest recommendations.

The road ahead for Sierra Leone’s tripartite committee
The Chief Minister and the Opposition Leader signed the agreement
Credit: US Embassy Freetown

The United States, which was the key backer of the initiative, congratulated both parties for striking a compromise and promised to support the idea. In a post on X, the embassy wrote: 

“Congratulations to all Sierra Leoneans on the signing of the agreement for National Cohesion. This is a victory for all who place national interest above partisan gains…”

Rerun of the 2023 elections or not?

According to the agreement, the committee has three chairpersons: the UN Resident Coordinator, Sarafina Wakana, Dr Kaifala Marah from the APC, and Dr Emmanuel Gaima, who represents the government. 

The fight for both political parties involved in this agreement is about controlling the narrative. Known opposition supporters have been calling for a rerun of the entire elections. In contrast, government supporters have insisted that the committee will look into the election and not in a Commission of Inquiry style. 

This fundamental difference in what to do about the 2023 election has been the subject of misinformation. Some people now believe a rerun is on the table and will be done in the coming months. This speculation has further been fueled by the fact that last month, the US government provided $1.5 million to the committee for its work. 

The expectations for rerun among some have gone up so much so that last week, the former Presidential Spokesman and a member of the APC, Abdulai Bayratay, had to state in an online interview that party leaders “are lying to the supporters about the possibility of a rerun election”. 

“Politicians should stop lying to the people. The 2023 election is done and dusted,” he said. 

But this has not stopped people from holding out hope for that. X user @Fornahib believes that the election rerun will be done immediately after the recommendations from the committee are put out. On his X wall, he said no matter how the committee explains its mandate, all they are waiting for is a rerun.

Another user, @mallamo37609814, remarked that the committee should go on and make recommendations for a rerun. 

Following the announcement of the money, a wave of rumours broke out, claiming that the US was pushing for a rerun. UN Ambassador at the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, had to deny the claims in an online press conference organised by the State Department. 

Linda-Greenfield announced the $1.5 million grant when she visited Sierra Leone last month. 

When asked whether the US is pushing for a rerun of the 2023 elections with this funding, she said no.

“I’m not aware of that, but what I am aware of is that the $1.5 million will assist Sierra Leone in developing their plans for how they will conduct elections in the future.  But there are no – as far as I know, there are no plans for an election, and certainly, we have not called for that.” 

During the signing of the terms of reference for the committee this week, representatives had diverse opinions about the possibility of another election to replace 2023.

Dr Gaima, Co-chair who is representing the government, said: 

“This committee will invite people to talk to them; this is a review committee and not an investigative committee.”

While the APC Co-Chair on the committee, Dr Marrah, was saying,

“We should not preempt the findings of the committee,” in response to a question about the possibility of a rerun.

The APC has been very vocal about ECSL producing the 2023 results; Marrah said, “We have different laws that will force them to bring the data; we have a mandate and will use it to review the results.” 

He stopped short of saying there will be a rerun or admitting that there will be one. 

What happens now?

The new committee has six months to deliver its findings and recommendations. How they go about that is as important as the findings. The committee has already agreed to widen its scope and look at other elections before this, but will this change anything for future elections? Only time will tell.

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