2006-06-19 18:46:00
Embassy Freetown
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DE RUEHFN #0499/01 1701846
P 191846Z JUN 06



E.O. 12958

Ref: A. 05 Freetown 960, B. 05 Freetown 745




E.O. 12958

Ref: A. 05 Freetown 960, B. 05 Freetown 745


1.(SBU) The National Electoral Commission (NEC) is busily
laying the groundwork for credible 2007 presidential and
parliamentary elections critical to Sierra Leone's
continued peaceful development. President Kabbah intends
to announce at the June 23 opening of Parliament that
elections will be next May, but the UN is quietly
advocating a later election date. The NEC is demarcating
politically contentious boundaries for constituencies
based on the 2004 census, and then will register voters.
Although the return to the constitutionally mandated
constituency-based, plurality voting system will make
parliamentarians theoretically more accountable to
voters, some observers object that this system caused
political polarization and other problems in Sierra
Leone's past. The NEC plans a voter education drive, but
urgently needs funding beyond what the government and UN
have provided. Political maneuvering ahead of the
official campaign period has been denounced by the NEC.
Police are planning training so that appropriate
restraint will be exercised during the campaign. End

NEC Continues Election Prep
Per Implementation Calendar

2.(U) The reformed National Electoral Commission (NEC),
under the dynamic leadership of former civil society
leader Christiana Thorpe, has made progress with the wide
array of preparations necessary before the 2007
presidential and parliamentary elections.

3.(U) In addition to training its own staff in how to
organize, run, and oversee elections, the NEC is working
with the Law Reform Commission and others to rewrite and
consolidate disparate electoral laws. They are also
completing a nationwide boundary delimitation to redraw
constituency boundaries for the first time since 1985.

4.(U) Once the boundary delimitation is complete, NEC
officials will begin voter registration. The aim is to
create a permanent voter's register, which will make
voter rolls less vulnerable to manipulation.

Boundary Delimitation: Adding Opposition
Seats in Parliament Raises SLPP Hackles

5.(U) One of the most contentious activities on the NEC's
agenda has been the nationwide boundary delimitation

exercise. Since constituency lines have not been redrawn
since 1986 and ward boundaries since 1956, they vary
widely in population. To compound the problem, elections
in 1996 and 2002 did not even use existing constituency
boundaries, since the proportional representation
electoral system was used. Since 2002, each of Sierra
Leone's 14 districts has had eight parliamentary seats.

6.(U) The new boundaries use mainly three criteria: the
total number of Parliamentary seats (determined by
Parliament); the nationwide population according to the
most recent census (conducted in December 2004); and
boundaries of existing communities (which is negotiable
and will rely at least in part on community input).

7.(U) Parliament retained the total number of
parliamentary seats, which meant that the existing 112
parliamentary seats were reallocated according to the
2004 census. Not surprisingly, the Western Urban
District (including the capital Freetown) was the biggest
winner, gaining 9 Parliamentary seats for a total of 17.
The biggest loser was Bonthe District, a stronghold of
the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP),which lost
five seats, leaving it only three seats in Parliament.

8.(U) Of the seven districts that sent only SLPP
representatives to Parliament, there was a net loss of

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four seats. Of the three districts that sent a majority
of SLPP representatives to Parliament, there was a net
loss of eight seats. Of the three districts that sent a
majority of opposition All People's Congress (APC)
representatives to Parliament, there was a net gain of
three seats. In the Western Urban District, where the
APC controls the Freetown city council, there is a 4/2/2
split between the ruling SLPP and two opposition parties
(the APC and People's Leadership Party (PLP)). The APC
is expected to win most of the nine new seats.

9.(SBU) When the NEC announced the district seat
reallocations, the ruling SLPP protested vociferously. A
headline appeared on the front page of the SLPP party
newspaper "Unity" that read, "Electoral Commission
Infringes the Law." The article went on to complain that
the NEC had violated the Constitution and bypassed
Parliament. There were later complaints about the loss
of so many seats in Bonthe District, which the SLPP
readily admitted is sparsely populated but retains
sentimental significance. (Comment: These initial
protests have since subsided, perhaps because the SLPP
believes the new seat allocation will not reverse its
majority in Parliament. End Comment.)

10.(U) Although seat allocations are now finished, the
process of drawing constituency boundaries is still in
progress. Statistics Sierra Leone (SSL),which conducted
the 2004 census with European Commission support, has
only one set of paper maps with census enumeration areas
handwritten on them. During the census, SSL staff took
Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates of each
village, so that the villages could be placed on
digitized maps. It has taken a while to computerize the
maps, in part because GPS data from one area in Sierra
Leone placed villages outside the country's borders or in
the Atlantic Ocean. UNDP elections consultant Dr. Lisa
Handley wrote in a September 2005 boundary delimitation
report that such errors are not unusual - the same thing
happened in Liberia in 2004 when the military was asked
to provide GPS coordinates for Voting Registration
Centers. Once the maps are digitized, however,
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software makes it
relatively easy to delimit constituency boundaries.

11.(U) Once the boundaries are drawn, NEC staff will hold
public consultations nationwide to solicit comments. The
NEC will consider recommendations for boundary changes
that make sense according to the delimitation criteria
(geographic features, population density, community
distribution, and existing boundaries of chiefdoms and
other administrative areas).

Back to the Future: Plurality vs.
Proportional Representation Systems

12.(U) Perhaps the most significant change for the
upcoming elections is the return to constitutionally
mandated constituency-based, plurality voting system.
Elections in 1996 and 2002 used two different variations
of the proportional representation (PR) voting system,
primarily because there were huge population
displacements and large areas of the country that were
inaccessible during the 11-year civil war.

13.(U) NEC officials and others hope that the return to
the constituency-based, "First Past The Post" (FPTP)
system will bring greater accountability of
parliamentarians to their constituencies. PR critics say
that Sierra Leoneans voted for political party symbols
(the SLPP's palm tree or the APC's rising sun) instead of
individual candidates, which meant that representatives
were more beholden to senior party officials than the
people who elected them into office.

14.(SBU) The return to the FPTP system is not universally
supported, however. Dr. Abubakarr Kargbo, a prominent
political science professor, has argued that the FPTP
system has historically been a political disaster for
Sierra Leone - not only because constituent
accountability never materialized when the system was in
place before 1996, but also because it exploited ethnic
differences, encouraged electoral violence, and

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discouraged wide political representation. Kargbo places
some of the responsibility for the country's devolution
to civil war on the poorly managed FPTP electoral system.

Setting the Date in 2007

15.(SBU) President Kabbah told the Ambassador on June 16
that he intends to announce at the June 23 opening of
Parliament that the elections will be held in May 2007.
He conceded that holding both elections on the same date
might be legally impossible despite the considerable
saving and political convenience of doing so. Noting his
admiration for the few amendments to the U.S.
Constitution, Kabbah said that he would not tinker with
the Sierra Leone Constitution to accommodate the
elections. Kabbah also reiterated his desire to retire, a
further indication that the elections will be sooner
rather than later. During the meeting, Kabbah asked an
aide to convene legal experts, which indicates that even
he has not yet settled on a precise date next May.

16.(U) The 1991 National Constitution dictates that
Parliament shall be dissolved five years after the date
of its first sitting after the general election. New
parliamentary elections can occur up to 30 days before
and 90 days after the dissolution date. The president
also sits for a five-year term, and those elections are
supposed to occur within the first three months of his
last four months in office or within three months of the
post becoming vacant.

17.(U) There is broad consensus among Sierra Leoneans and
the international community for simultaneous presidential
and parliamentary elections because of the cost savings
of a single election and because politicians' fear that
the electorate will lose interest in the parliamentary
election if the presidential election is held first, but
as Kabbah stated, this may be constitutionally
impossible. (Note: By our count, parliamentary elections
should occur between May 26 and September 23, 2007. The
ostensible window for presidential elections would be
between February 19 and April 19, 2007 unless President
Kabbah takes some other kind of action, like retiring
early. End Note.)

Education, Oversight Needed
To Make Democracy Work

18.(U) Voter education is a key component of the NEC's
strategy for making the upcoming elections free and fair.
A nationwide campaign using print, radio and television
is planned, but Sierra Leone's mostly illiterate
population who are accustomed to being influenced with
rice by political hopefuls and pressured by their local
chiefs to vote for certain candidates, have a steep
learning curve. The NEC just completed a nationwide
campaign to educate Sierra Leoneans on the constituency
allocation and boundary delimitation process. The
campaign was meant help Sierra Leoneans understand how
the election process works so they can own the process as
it moves forward. The next step, once the digitized maps
are completed and draft constituency boundaries drawn,
will be to circulate them for comment and revision. NEC
staffers have said that the first round of education has
been very successful, and even schoolchildren have had a
chance to play with the maps and numbers and see how the
process works.

19.(U) Although the NEC has made significant progress,
officials concede that funding has become an impediment
that could derail their calendar for election
preparations. Although the Sierra Leone Government and
UNDP had supported the NEC, pledges from the European
Commission and the British have not materialized, and
other major donors, including the U.S., have not been
forthcoming to date. In addition the Political Parties
Registration Commission (PPRC),which as established
inter alia to resolve campaign complaints, is severely

20.(U) Political maneuvering is already in full swing,

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and there have been multiple reports that the SLPP is
using its incumbency inappropriately. Vice President
Berewa, the SLPP's 2007 presidential nominee, has
reportedly been using his frequent upcountry visits to
launch public projects as political rallies. Post has
seen an attempt to politicize an Ambassador's Special
Self Help Fund project with prominent local SLPP and APC
activists vying for control and credit. There have also
been reports that local authorities in SLPP-dominant
districts have prevented the opposition APC from holding
political meetings. NEC Commissioner Thorpe recently
condemned early campaigning ahead of the official
campaign period and said that incidents of wrongdoing are
being monitored and will later be raised to the PPRC,
which is responsible for enforcing electoral laws. Thorpe
is also one of the PPRC Commissioners.

Security: A Serious Concern

21.(U) Like peas and carrots, elections and violence have
frequently been seen together throughout Sierra Leone's
history. Police are already cracking down in an attempt
to maintain order: in November 2005, they arrested
People's Movement For Democratic Change (PMDC) leader
Charles Margai in Bo for an alleged violation of the
Public Order Act (see ref A). In June, police in Bo
chased down a foreigner who photographed an SLPP parade
where Vice President Berewa was present and arrested two
Sierra Leoneans who gave him shelter in their internet
cafe. The press reported that the police will deploy 200
armed police to Biriwa Chiefdom, Bombali District on June
16 to allow a chiefdom candidate declaration ceremony to
go forward. Previous attempts to have the ceremony,
press reports say, have been cancelled because of
violence. In May, a policeman in Kailahun told an
Embassy staffer that he plans to be on leave during the
2007 elections because he has fears about what will
happen. (Note: Many young men in Kailahun vocally support
Charles Margai. End Note.)

22.(SBU) Plans are being made to prevent political and
police violence. The American head of the UN police
liaison unit recently briefed the Ambassador on pre-
election training that will be given to the police in
crowd control. The objective, he said, will be to make
the police capable of handling different levels of
demonstrations instead of their two current modes:
passivity and over-reaction.


23.(U) Peaceful, free, and fair elections in 2007 will be
crucial to Sierra Leone's continuing political
maturation, and the NEC's efforts to reform the electoral
process and educate the public represent Sierra Leone's
best hope for achieving them. The NEC has a long, hard
slog ahead, though, and it may not be possible to
complete everything they are planning to do before the
election (e.g., the permanent voter's register and
delimiting ward boundaries for local elections in 2008).
It will be crucial in the months ahead to keep the
spotlight on politicians of all stripes to ensure that
partisan activities do not break Sierra Leone's fragile