By Amara Thoronka
The Government of Sierra Leone has accepted the recommendation of a constitutional review committee for general elections in the country to have a fixed date.
This was disclosed by President Julius Maada Bio on Thursday 13 January when launching the Government White Paper (position of government) on the report of the said constitutional review committee which was established by erstwhile president Ernest Bai Koroma who reportedly put out a white paper which did not reflect the recommendations of the then Justice Edmond Cowan’s constitutional review committee.
According to the current white paper, all elections (presidential, parliamentary and local council) are to be held in one day with a specific date, adding that the date for the inauguration of the president should also be specific.
“Government accepts this recommendation for Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Government elections to be held on a fixed date, preferably the second Saturday in March in the election year,” the white paper notes.
The inaugural ceremony, after presidential election, will now be held on the country’s independence day.
“Government accepts the recommendation to have fixed date for inauguration, preferably on 27 April in the election year. However, a person elected to the office of President shall assume that office on the day he/she is declared by the Chief Electoral Commissioner so that there will be no power vacuum.”
The current 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone does not give specific dates for public elections in the country. It only dictates that presidential election shall be held within ninety days after the incumbent completes his/her five-year term.
Also, the government has reduced the threshold for winning presidential election from 55% to 50%.
“Government believes that the fifty-five percent threshold set for a presidential candidate to be elected has resulted in unnecessary second election with great cost to the economy, peace and security of the nation. Government proposes that a threshold of more than fifty percent of the valid votes cast should suffice for a candidate to be elected President.”
According to the white paper, a sitting president or vice president shall no longer cease to be president or vice president on the loss of his/her party membership.
In 2017, ex-president Ernest bai Koroma came under pressure and criticism from opposition parties and civil society for what was deemed to be lateness in the announcement of the date for the conduct of 2018 general elections which brought current President Bio to power. Koroma was also criticized for sacking his vice president Samuel Sam Sumana after the VP lost his party membership in addition to the criticism of giving less consideration to the recommendations of the very legal reform body he established.
The introduction of specific dates for elections and inauguration is believed to put an end to the previous controversies around election timeline. The reduction of the threshold to 50% is also believed to prevent.