''All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing'' - Edmund Burke


S I E R R A  H E R A L D

Vol 9 No 7

The tendency sometimes to protect perpetrators for the sake of peace...doesn't help society. Impunity should not be allowed to stand. - Kofi Annan on Waki report

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Friday September 14, 2012 - A new report launched by former UN Chief Scribe Kofi Annan looks at elections and why the integrity of such procedures must be on the agenda of all democracies - fledgling, established or otherwise.

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan today launched a report titled Deepening Democracy: A Strategy for Improving the Integrity of Elections Worldwide  This must-read report takes a global view at the electoral process and how situations, most of them ugly, are created when democratic principles are thrown into the furnace as the desperate try to seize power or hold on to power using what can only be described as a lip service to democracy and the integrity of elections. It also highlights the benefits of conducting free, fair and participatory elections by an independent electoral body free from the corrupt influences of the Executive, Legislative and indeed the Judiciary. Indeed as he points out in the "Forward" of the report -

In country after country, people have risked their lives to call for free elections, democratic accountability, the rule of law and respect for human rights. Elections are the indispensable root of democracy. They are now almost universal. Since 2000, all but 11 countries have held national elections. But to be credible, we need to see high standards before, during and after votes are cast. Opposition organizations must be free to organize and campaign without fear. There must be a level playing field among candidates. On polling day, voters must feel safe and trust the secrecy and integrity of the ballot. And when the votes have been counted the result must be accepted no matter how disappointed the defeated candidates feel.

This report should be carefully read by all political parties, all civil society groups, all stake holders in Sierra Leone's democracy with a view to taking the right decisions, making the right and legal moves that would ensure that no Sierra Leonean is deprived of his/her right of freedom of political expression, participation and ownership. Long gone should be those times when nominations days were declarations of war against the opposition and equally, we hope would be long gone the days when election petitions are never decided by the courts no matter how many petitions were brought by losing candidates who were of the considered opinion that illegal methods were used to deprive them and their supporters of a free vote. We welcome the news that the government of the magician at State House, the man who loves to have a string of Ph.D attached after his name, has set up a court that would deal with such petitions swiftly and we hope that such decisions would not be weighted in favour of the ruling party. Indeed as noted in the new report

The integrity of elections hinges on the strict observance of the rule of law—the capacity and norms that ensure that governments are accountable by law, that citizens are equal under the law, that lawmaking and enforcing are not arbitrary, and that laws respect human rights. When applied to elections, this means that action must be taken against incumbents or entrenched political interests seeking to manipulate the electoral process. Strong independent courts are needed to protect the rights of all voters, political parties and candidates, to enforce free and fair electoral procedures, and to prosecute violations of the electoral process. For elections to have integrity, electoral justice must be done, and citizens must see that it is done.

We would also advise the ruling party, the APC that is, that having a majority in Parliament is no excuse for brushing aside legitimate concerns by representatives of the people who form more than forty percent of the population and that had they listened to their objections, the proposed fees would never have been an issue as it would have been dropped rather than being forced to swallow the bitter pill of defeat with ignominy, with so many embarrassed smiles from all those who had advocated for fees that would have deprived the majority of Sierra Leoneans of their democratic rights.

On the role of electoral management bodies, (EMB's) as we have in the National Electoral Commission headed by Christian Thorpe, the report notes what it sees as five major challenges that must be overcome if elections are to be conducted with integrity -

1. building the rule of law to substantiate claims to human rights and electoral justice;

2. building professional, competent electoral management bodies (EMBs) with full independence of action to administer elections that are transparent and merit public confidence;

3. creating institutions and norms of multiparty competition and division of power that bolster democracy as a mutual security system among political contenders;

4. removing barriers—legal, administrative, political, economic, and social—to universal and equal political participation; and

5. regulating uncontrolled, undisclosed, and opaque political finance. (President Koroma and his minions will one day be made to account for the source of all the foreign currency he is reported to have been swimming in and whoever is providing such amounts would also come under investigation at the appropriate time).

And perhaps this observation would serve as a new pivot for the action and thought patterns of the National Electoral Commission, the Executive and the Legislature

Elections are fundamental to the ethos and principles of democracy. They create the opportunities for individuals to identify and pursue their political preferences, participate in the political process, and hold their representatives accountable without fear of repression or violence. They provide citizens with the means to discuss, debate, and educate themselves about key issues of governance, making free and open competition and political campaigning as important as the act of voting itself.

For elections to uphold human rights and democratic principles, they must be conducted with integrity.

When elections lack integrity, electoral officials are not accountable to the public, and political candidates and voters are denied equal opportunity to participate in and influence the political process. Citizens lose confidence in democratic processes when elections are not inclusive, transparent, and accountable.

When elections have integrity, they bolster democracy, respect fundamental rights, and produce elected officials who are more likely to represent their citizens’ interests.

But in addition to promoting democratic values and human rights, elections with integrity can also yield other tangible benefits for citizens. Evidence from around the world suggests that elections with integrity matter for empowering women, fighting corruption, delivering services to the poor, improving governance, and ending civil wars.

To be clear, elections with integrity cannot by themselves develop economies, create good governance, or make peace, but recent research does suggest that improved elections can be a catalytic step towards realizing democracy’s transformative potential.




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