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Sierra Leone 2012 General Elections Carter Center Reports Transparent and Orderly Process, Urges Sierra Leoneans to Await Results

CONTACTS: In Atlanta: Deanna Congileo, +1 404 420 5117; In Freetown: Gregory Houël,
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Read the full preliminary statement (PDF)

The Nov. 17, 2012, elections are the first self-administered elections to be conducted in Sierra Leone since the end of the civil war, representing an important test for the country's democratic consolidation. Carter Center observers reported that voting and counting processes were peaceful, orderly, transparent, and in general accordance with Sierra Leone's legal framework and obligations for democratic elections. While the Center noted some limited administrative shortcomings, observers reported that the electoral process was well-conducted by NEC officials, that polling staff performed admirably in difficult conditions, and that the people of Sierra Leone turned out in high numbers to cast their ballots freely.

At this stage, while the tabulation of final results is still underway, it is too early to provide an overall assessment of the electoral process. Carter Center long-term observers continue to observe the tabulation process, and will remain in Sierra Leone to observe post-election processes. This statement is preliminary; a final report will be published in coming months following the conclusion of the electoral process.

The Carter Center encourages all political parties and candidates to await the announcement of results. In the event of any challenges or complaints, parties and candidates should follow the prescribed legal channels.

The Center's main findings are as follows:

  • The process was conducted with a high degree of transparency. Party agents, citizen observers, and international observers had access to all stages of the electoral process.
  • Political party and independent candidate agents, particularly from the APC and SLPP, were seen in strong numbers across the country.
  • Citizen observers were deployed to polling stations across the country, particularly those from the National Election Watch (NEW). NEW observers were professional and well-trained, and released several statements based on reports from a large sample of polling stations.
  • Carter Center observers reported strong turnout in the polling stations visited, in most cases exceeding 75 percent.
  • The number of female candidates participating in the elections was very low, and represents one of the most important shortfalls of the 2012 electoral process.
  • The Sierra Leone Police (SLP) reported very few cases of election-related violence across the country, and Carter Center observers did not report any incidents of violence during their deployment. This is a remarkable improvement on past elections, for which the people of Sierra Leone should be commended.
  • Carter Center observers noted several administrative shortcomings on election day, including late poll openings, shortages of election materials, and problems due to long queues in the morning. These shortfalls generally were addressed by mid-day, and they did not undermine the fundamental integrity of the electoral process, nor prevent registered voters from participating in the process.
  • While Carter Center observers noted that the layout of some polling stations and the placement of voting booths did not sufficiently ensure the secrecy of the ballot, they reported that the overall integrity of the process was not undermined.
  • Although voter education efforts in advance of the election were poor, on election day, ballot paper issuers provided instructions to individual voters which appeared to contribute to voter's overall understanding of the process.
  • Carter Center observers reported that the campaign period was generally peaceful, allowing political parties to assemble freely and to convey their message to potential voters. The campaign was conducted in a lively and generally peaceful manner throughout the country with active participation of the citizens.
  • The Center commends the parties for agreeing to abide by a campaign calendar in order to avoid clashes that could lead to violence. At the same time, the Center notes that such campaign limits are inconsistent with the right to freedom of movement and expression. The Center hopes that in the future, the need for such restrictions will not arise as the political parties mature and citizens reject the notion of electoral violence.
  • Although The Carter Center did not conduct a formal media monitoring program, the Center noted that the incumbent president and the ruling party received considerably more coverage than opposition parties from the SLBC and other outlets, providing them with an unfair advantage during the campaign period.

The Carter Center conducts election observation missions in accordance with the Declaration of Principles of International Election Observation which was adopted in 2005 at the United Nations. The Center assesses electoral processes based on states' obligations for democratic elections contained in their regional and international commitments and in their domestic legal framework.

At the invitation of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), the Center commenced its observation mission in Sept. 2012, deploying eight long-term observers (LTOs) to assess the campaign period and electoral preparations. For the voting and counting processes, the Center deployed 40 observers, visiting 217 polling stations across all 14 districts and in 64 constituencies. Read the full preliminary statement (PDF)

Nov. 1, 2012: Carter Center Pre-election Statement Reports Generally Peaceful Campaign in Sierra Leone and Urges Voter Education and Other Steps to Enhance Electoral Preparations

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