In a highly contested and controversial election process, President Julius Maada Bio has been re-elected as the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone. The multi-tier elections, held on June 24, 2023, saw President Bio declared to have secured 56.17% of the vote according to the official results announced by the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone.
The re-election of President Bio has been marred by allegations of electoral irregularities and controversies, however. The main opposition party, the All People’s Congress (APC), has raised claims of misconduct and electoral fraud during the tallying process. These allegations have sparked tensions and debates among the political parties and the general public.
The APC argues that the ECSL’s tallying process lacks transparency and accountability, which goes against even the most basic international standards. This lack of transparency raises concerns about the legitimacy of the electoral results and undermines the peace and stability of Sierra Leone.
Unfortunately, such concerns have been confirmed by the parallel vote tabulation (PVT) undertaken by the National Elections Watch (NEW), a domestic observation group. According to NEW, there are major disparities between the PVT findings and the official results, and these differences include the proportion of the vote received by Bio and the APC’s candidate, as well as the election turnout and the number of invalid votes.
More specifically, the PVT conducted by NEW placed President Bio on between 47.7% to 53.1% of the vote, well below the 55% threshold needed for a first round win. NEW also found that the APC’s candidate secured between 43.8% to 49.2%, above the figure of 41.2% of the vote announced by the ECSL. Further analysis by researchers shared online suggests that the official results may have been achieved through “ballot box stuffing in ruling party areas” and “shifting invalid votes to Bio’s total”.
Given these disparities, it is likely that the APC will seek redress in court. By pursuing legal action, they can challenge the election results and present their grievances before a judicial body. This course of action allows for an independent assessment of the election process and the determination of whether any irregularities or violations occurred.
It is important for the court to thoroughly examine the evidence generated by NEW, which includes what appears to be unfeasibly high turnout in some ruling party strongholds. This will require, however, the ECSL to make available the full set of results including at the polling station level, as well as the results for the legislative elections, so that these can be forensically analysed and compared.
It is also essential that the legal process is seen to be credible and transparent in order to encourage all parties and citizens to take their grievances through the official channels, and to minimise the risk of political conflict. Sierra Leone, a country known for its tumultuous political history, now faces the challenge of reconciling its divided electorate and promoting national unity under the re-elected President Julius Maada Bio’s leadership.
A robust complaints procedure, inclusive leadership, and a commitment to strengthening the country’s political system are desperately needed to make sure that we are not seeing the death of democracy in Sierra Leone.
Paul Kamara (email) is a lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication, University of Makeni and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications, Bachelor of Laws, BL and a Master of Laws. He is a Human rights activist, Media Law expert, a Journalist and an academic.