Executive Director, Institute for Governance Reform, Andrew Lavali signed a letter to the Commission noting that the IGR has been following recent election build-ups including party conventions, lower level elections and ensuing activities.
He said they recognized the pivotal role of the PPRC in regulating the conduct of political parties and wish to commend the Commission for the outstanding commitment demonstrated thus far in preparation for the March 2018 elections, particularly since its appointment six months ago.
He expressed dismay that a number of public officials were elected/selected for party positions in recent primaries and that these individuals are now defending political party positions on radio, television and social media platforms.
Director Lavali reminded the Commission that such actions contravene Section 15 of the PPRC Act of 2002: “A person who is a public officer shall not be eligible to hold office in a political party; speak in public or publish anything on matters of political party controversy; or engage in canvassing in support of a political party or a candidate standing for a general election.”
He said IGR is particularly concerned that fusion of control of state resources and party interest might give rise to the use of public resources for political campaigns for particular candidates or parties and disadvantage others.
“We hope that PPRC can review the lists of newly elected party officials and advice affected parties on corrective actions” Lavali stated.
He went on that IGR has observed that the image of President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma is currently being used on campaign posters and billboards of the APC, although he is not running for office.
Section 40 (2) of Sierra Leone’s Constitution according to IGR, describes His Excellency the President as the symbol of national unity and that the appropriation of his image by one party undermines that vision.
Director Lavali stated that although the president has a right to support his candidate of choice, IGR believes that PPRC can ensure that there are clear regulations on the level of support, protection and resources State House can and should provide to any candidate competing for public office.
Institute of Governance Reform in its letter to PPRC further expressed disappointment and complained to the PPRC the involvement of traditional rulers in political party activities. While noting that the 2009 Chieftaincy Act is silent on the neutrality of chiefs in public elections, IGR reminded that the 2013 Code of Ethics and Service Standards for Chiefs (of which all chiefs are signatory), explicitly states that chiefs should be neutral in party activities.
Neutrality of Chiefs IGR noted is important because they are the principal source of justice for many voters, particularly in rural areas where they mediate local disputes or refer cases to police or the courts.
IGR further noted that the majority of chiefs contacted in its monitoring are well aware of the likelihood of conflicts increasing between supporters of different parties, as election-time draws near, and believe that where chiefs openly side with one party, it will be difficult to ensure their neutrality in mediating such cases.
The IGR letter also recommended that the PPRC work with the Human Rights Commission and the National Council of Paramount Chiefs to address the potential threat to political expression at community level, especially for marginalized groups.
“Commissioner, we understand that legal regimes governing political behaviour and accountability do not sufficiently capture all potential issues that can prevent a level playing field in competitive party politics. We also believe that calling attention to possible contraventions of the PPRC Act and the Sierra Leone Constitution and other activities that are not covered will help reduce the abuse of our laws. As the preeminent institution charged with regulating political parties, we believe that PPRC is best placed to educate both the parties and the public on what is acceptable and what is not in order to ensure a level playing field for all candidates, and contribute to the consolidation of democracy in Sierra Leone” the IGR complain included.
In conclusion, IGR observed that outside of a few incidences of violence in Freetown and Magburaka, political interactions within and between parties in the last four weeks have largely been peaceful, and the Sierra Leone police have exhibited high levels of professionalism in their coverage of party conventions between the two big political parties in the country, and in ensuring that all parties are free to express their points of view.
“Notwithstanding the gains we are seeing in the quality of our democracy, there are challenges which, if not addressed before the official campaign period is declared, we fear may affect the peaceful conduct of elections and frustrate the consolidation of the rule of law. While some of these activities appear to contravene existing laws, we believe that others while lawful might nevertheless send mixed signals to the electorate. It is in light of these observations that we are writing this public letter, to seek your commission’s advice and decision as the regulatory authority of political party conduct. Moreover, we believe that your response would be extremely instructive to the civic education program for the up-coming elections the letter ended.