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Cablegate: More Officials Than Voters: Apathy Marks

VZCZCXRO0076
RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHFN #0157 0921318
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 011318Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY FREETOWN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1826
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS FREETOWN 000157

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV KDEM SL
SUBJECT: MORE OFFICIALS THAN VOTERS: APATHY MARKS
BY-ELECTIONS


1. SUMMARY: Sierra Leone's local by-elections to fill four
Parliamentary seats vacated by Cabinet Ministers took place
on March 29, and results are expected to be announced the
second week of April. Polling centers for the lone Freetown
seat in contention were observed by a small embassy observer
team. Low voter-turnout and general public disinterest is
attributable to a number of factors, including limited public
outreach, voter fatigue, and a general national focus on the
local elections scheduled for July 2008. An additional and
perhaps more compelling factor is that these constituencies
are traditionally APC strongholds and voters would likely
elect the APC candidates. Despite this general sense of
apathy, post observed that the voting process went smoothly
with the many actors involved understanding their roles and
responsibilities. The experience and lessons learned from the
2007 national elections appear to be sustained and this bodes
well for the July elections and into the future. END SUMMARY.

--------------------------------------------- ------
BUSY STREETS BUT QUIET POLLS: WHERE ARE THE VOTERS?
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. The by-elections were called to replace four APC Members
of Parliament who now hold positions as the President's
Ministers of Trade and Industry, Transport and Aviation,
Justice, and Labor and Social Security. The resultant
vacancies in the districts of Freetown, Port Loko, Bombali,
and Kambia will be filled through these by-elections, with
APC candidates expected to win, once again, in each
constituency.

3. While the National Electoral Commission (NEC) has yet to
release figures, the voter turnout in each constituency was
noticeably low. The observer team noted that the various
officials, from NEC employees to security personnel to civil
society and party monitoring teams, far out-numbered the
voters. The low turnout had been anticipated by all official
participants in the process, as well as the press, primarily
because public sentiment indicated that the SLPP and PDMC
contenders had little chance of winning in these APC
stronghold constituencies. It is possible that such thinking
created a self-fulfilling prophecy, with SLPP and PDMC
candidates doing minimum campaigning and their supporters
choosing not to participate because they expected their vote
to have no impact on the final outcome. Like their
counterparts in the SLPP and PDMC, the APC candidates
conducted very limited campaigns, perhaps because they saw no
need for great effort. Turnout may also have been impacted
by voter fatigue and greater inte
rest in the upcoming July local elections.

4. While processing many voters was not, ultimately, a
concern of the day, the observation team was impressed by the
level of support from the Sierra Leone Police (SLP), the
professionalism of the NEC representatives, and the active
participation of party monitors. The SLP, in particular,
acquitted themselves well in their preparation for the event
and vigilance throughout the voting period. It was also a
valuable refresher for the NEC, providing a chance to
implement best practices and lessons learned identified
during the national elections prior to the local elections in
July. The observation team was pleased to note that the
investment of training and resources in the NEC for the
national elections was reflected positively in the
experienced and professional manner with which officials
managed the by-election process.

5. COMMENT: A well-functioning democratic process is the
foundation of transparent and accountable governance systems.
Though the by-elections received little attention, even
within the four constituencies affected, the commitment and
adherence to process and procedure must be noted as a success
for the NEC and supporting agencies. This bodes well for
future elections and sets an example that other countries in
the region struggling with similar issues can potentially
follow. Though Sierra Leone faces considerable obstacles in
nearly every arena, the entrenchment of a functioning and
fair electoral process is a sizeable victory. END COMMENT.
PERRY

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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