The just recently concluded bye-elections were not an exception as some of the elections were characterized by pockets of violence and security breaches despite the rigorous preparations put in place by the National Electoral Commission to stem the tide of insecurity during the process. Some districts experienced some form of security breaches leading to offices of political parties destroyed and people injured.
Ideally, elections ought not to be characterized by conflicts and violence if the actors are genuinely seeking power for the common good. And security forces have no role to play in an ideal democracy. However, for Sierra Leone’s democracy elections remain a major trigger of violence and insecurity.
Elections possess certain characteristics which make them a potential source of insecurity, conflict and instability for the democratic system if not properly managed. Significantly, it is evident that security during the electoral process is a major problem in the management of elections especially in emerging democracies like Sierra Leone’s.
But this in no way suggests that elections engender violence rather it is the poor management of the electoral process that results in violence especially if the process is perceived to be compromised.
The increase in election violence in Sierra Leone is due, among other causes to the poor management of diversity, reflecting the mobilization of ethic cleavages and repression of dissenting views.
A fall out of this mismanagement is the insertion of the state into the electoral governance as a partisan through the use of the power of incumbency by the party in power for unfair political advantage. Also, I believe that the inadequate preparation of the electoral umpire is also a major cause. This currently is the case in Sierra Leone-the NEC is financially handicapped to fully prepare.
Inefficient of pre-election processes such as voters’ registration and education are so sources of conflict and violence as politicians take advantage of such lapses to commit electoral fraud. The complicity of the party in power by its failure to adequately fund the electoral realm or late release of funds is KEY.
The availability of voting materials and behaviour of polling agents are delicate aspects which present potential risk of violence and insecurity. Lack of internal democracy by participating political parties in the nomination of candidates contributes to the various conflicts that characterize elections in Sierra Leone. The tendency to resort to self-help is often due to the perception of compromise of the process by the voters and the feeling of corruption to benefit some candidates.
Questions have been raised as to the role expected of the police during elections.
The functions of the police should include superintending electioneering campaigns to ensure that politicians remain civil and thus avoid conflicts and providing a secured environment for voters to exercise their franchise without the fear of intimidation and harassment. Including ensuring the sanctity of the whole process.
With the concept of winners take it all in Sierra Leone; can the police provide fairly the necessary security needed for all players? Successive governments (SLPP and APC) have always influenced the security sector to their own advantage. The Police have been aided by the military to cover the elections in Sierra Leone.
The military is always involved to discourage desperate politicians from compromising the process. The Sierra Leone Police is believed to be vulnerable to compromise by politicians. Will Sierra Leone’s Inspector General of Police Francis Alieu Munu give in to such compromise?