Has The Judiciary Saved Sierra Leone From Chaos?

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It would have taken a ruling by a court to trigger an electoral crisis in Sierra Leone this Monday afternoon. On the eve of the presidential elections run-off originally scheduled for Tuesday, March 27, 2018, hundreds of Sierra Leoneans gathered in front of the court to chant: “We want to vote”. Meanwhile, in the inner chambers of the court, the judges were busy deliberating on the injunction to suspend the presidential run-offs issued by the High Court last Saturday.

The court, acting on an application by lawyer Ibrahim Koroma, a member of the ruling party APC, ordered the National Electoral Commission to suspend preparations for the second round of presidential elections.

The decision of the court caused a lot of concerns in the circle of civil society organizations. The CSOs promptly issued a statement asking all their members to attend the Monday court session. The CSOs recalled that the judiciary had in the past failed to perform its constitutionally assigned role of stopping every form of impunity and tyranny.

As indicated in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “lawyers and judges failed to stand up to the state tyranny “. The judiciary has a major role to play in consolidating democracy, but in many African countries, it serves as a crutch for the executive. Judges, prosecutors, and lawyers are often partisan in their decision-making and act for the most part in favor of the ruling party or the party that appointed them to their positions.

A few hours prior to the lifting of the injunction, Sierra Leoneans gathered outside the court expressed a mixture of anger and anxiety. Persons with disabilities mobilized in a corner of the crossroads to complain about their misery caused by this election as activities have slowed down and they are unattended to. Frightened that an electoral conflict would worsen their condition, they implore the authorities not to postpone the elections so that Sierra Leoneans can resume their activities and go on with their lives. Young protesters who were holding a demonstration simultaneously were not however afraid to issue threats of violence in case the court decides to postpone the elections.  Soldiers were deployed to the premises of the court to support the police as the numbers of angry protesters were growing.

Sierra Leone experienced war for little over a decade; a war in which more than 85,000 people died even as it plunged the country into an impasse it is still striving to get out of. In the hearts of Sierra Leoneans, peace is sacred and they are not ready to sacrifice it for political games and calculations between the two political parties competing in the run-off.

Since independence, Sierra Leone has been ruled by the All People’s Congress (APC) twenty-five years before the war, and the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), which was in power from 1996 to 2007. The ruling party APC party totals 35 years of rule shared by the dictatorial government of Siaka Stevens, (the country’s first president), Joseph Momoh, who was overthrown by the military junta in 1991 and Ernest Bai Koroma, whose last term has been stained with the Ebola epidemic and the mudslide both of which cost the country over 5,000 lives.

Though weakened by a decade of war, epidemics, and natural disasters, Sierra Leone has, however, impressed the international community with its sustained peaceful elections for the past twenty years. Nevertheless, one should not unduly stretch the patience of an extremely impoverished population of which more than 70% live below the poverty line with over half of its youths unemployed and uneducated.

The SLPP of Brigadier Julius Maada Bio who ruled the country for three months in 1996, is credited for reinstating democratic rule when he deposed the junta government of Captain Strasser and yielded power to a civilian government. The SLPP stated that the complaint against the electoral commission is an attempt by the ruling party to extend the term of incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma.

On the hand, supporters of the ruling party APC affirm that the electoral commission recruited too many Mande people (the ethnic group of Julius Maada Bio), who are keen supporters of the SLPP and are likely to tamper with elections results.  The Court requested increased security during the elections and asked that the results be transmitted manually, the ballot boxes numbered and tagged and the figures communicated to the two political parties.

Will this be enough to alleviate the concerns of the ruling party, which denounces the partiality of the members of the electoral commission and insists that the latter has maliciously canceled the votes of 231 polling stations in their stronghold on the basis of overvoting? For Dr. Samura Kamara the APC candidate, his party remains certain of its victory and there is nothing to worry about. Elections are supposed to be the greatest instrument of democracy, but when they fail to be transparent and are stained with partisan politics, they may generate chaos.