In a preliminary statement released by the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Sierra Leone, Chief Observer Evin Incir expressed concern over the challenges faced by voters during the recently concluded general elections.

The EU EOM commended the dedication and resolve of voters to exercise their democratic rights but highlighted the violence and lack of transparency that marred critical stages of the electoral process.

The EU EOM noted that the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ESCL) initially appeared to be operationally prepared for the elections. However, delays and omissions in the delivery of sensitive materials on election day, without proper explanations, raised concerns.

Throughout the electoral process, the ECSL lacked clear, timely and comprehensive communication with the broader public, creating uncertainties and reducing stakeholders’ trust. Considering the highly polarised political environment, it is crucial to ensure full transparency and unimpeded access of observers to critical stages of the tabulation of results,” said the Chief Observer Evin Incir.

The EU EOM noted that the 2023 elections were conducted under the revised electoral framework. Positively, legal reforms followed broad stakeholder consultations, in line with international good practice. The ECSL registered candidates for all races in an inclusive process.

“In total 13 candidates contested the presidential election; some 877 stood for parliamentary elections, among whom 32 per cent were women. With no caps on campaign donations or expenditures, better-off candidates had a clear advantage in all races, while the misuse of incumbency hampered the playing field,”Β they stated.

The EU EOM further noted that while freedom of movement, assembly, and expression were largely respected at the start of the campaign, politically motivated attacks in several districts and the disproportionate use of force by security agencies restricted political participation closer to election day. They added that divisive content on social media further exacerbated tensions.

“Positively, national fact-checking initiative iVerify vigorously countered disinformation and media debates in all districts helped voters to make informed choices. However, a national presidential debate did not happen,” the observes stated.

Georgios Kyrtsos, Head of Delegation of Members of European Parliament, issued a message to the leaders and people of Sierra Leone, urging them to peacefully address any disputes arising from the electoral process through available legal avenues.

Considering the latest developments, we call on all stakeholders to deal with any disputes arising from the electoral process peacefully, using available legal avenues” said Kyrtsos.

With the EU EOM present in Sierra Leone since May 11, their observation will continue during the tabulation of results. The mission plans to publish a final report in the coming months, including recommendations for improving the electoral framework in Sierra Leone.