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Cablegate: U.S. Electoral Process Excites Sierra Leoneans

DE RUEHFN #0531 3121403
R 071403Z NOV 08




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: U.S. Electoral Process Excites Sierra Leoneans

1. Summary: On the afternoon and evening of November 4, Ambassador
Perry welcomed visitors to a 6-station exhibit on the United States
Presidential Elections. In total, nearly 400 people joined Embassy
staff to learn about the different aspects of the process and to
watch televised coverage of voting in the U.S. Responses from
participants, from students as young as six to cabinet members, were
extraordinary. Participants of note included the Ministers of
Energy, Health, and Foreign Affairs, Speaker and members of
Parliament, the Chief Justice of the High Court, Chair of the
Presidents Anti-Corruption Commission, representatives of the
diplomatic corps, leaders of civil society, and other notable Sierra
Leoneans. Many said it was the most informative, fun, and relaxed
event they have attended at the Embassy. End Summary.

Emphasis on Unity

2. Ambassador Perry first welcomed nearly 200 students aged 6-17,
and later a cross-section of Sierra Leonean society including
government leaders, community and religious leaders, academics, and
journalists, among others. She recognized the historical
significance of this particular election, but primarily targeted her
remarks to be subtle reminders of the importance of maintaining
democratic integrity. Despite the impressiveness of recent Sierra
Leonean elections, which were generally termed free and fair by
observers, politics in this country are marred by divisiveness,
discord, and mud-slinging in the press. The Ambassador's remarks
showcased the hallmarks of American politics - beyond transparent
elections - including political unity to achieve goals of national
interest, and that elected officials become the government of all
the people, and not merely the government of their party's

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Student Enthusiasm

3. The event featured informational displays on the Electoral
College, the role of political parties in the United States, the
candidates, and the voting process, which included a mock election
for non-U.S. citizens. Each display was staffed by an American and
a local employee to answer questions. In addition to the displays,
a viewing area screening televised coverage of Election Day in the
United States was standing-room only, and the multi-purpose Room,
with IIP videos on Elections showing on the big screen, was a
welcome respite from the crowd.

4. 11 local schools sent 10-20 students each to learn about the
elections. Embassy staff members were impressed with the knowledge
the students already possessed about the Elections, and their
questions were remarkably astute. Several indicated that they
wanted to be President of Sierra Leone in the future. Many students
lingered to watch live television coverage of the polls, asking
about how voting procedures varied from state to state, about the
candidates, and about the political parties. Handouts were tailored
to the youthful audience, including worksheets for the students to
bring back to their classrooms for follow-up lessons.

Political Education via Popular Displays

5. While the "Candidates" display appeared to be the most popular,
since it included an opportunity to have a souvenir photo taken with
life-sized cardboard cut-outs of Senators Obama and McCain, comments
about the Electoral College display were most prevalent. Sierra
Leoneans were fascinated to learn that the American President is not
elected by a popular vote, and many took home the IIP publication on
the Electoral College to learn more. In addition, the political
parties display emphasized the fact that American political parties
are founded on differing ideologies, so Americans often vote with
the party that most accurately represents their views, in contrast
to local political parties, which are based more on tribal and
geographic divisions.

6. To conclude the evening, a member of the local staff announced
the results of the mock election, which had tremendous participation
by young and old. The results matched those announced later that
night in the U.S.


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