Sierra Leone’s new public elections act lacks campaign finance provisions
The presidential elections in Sierra Leone are less than six months away and will be the first under the newly enacted public elections Act 2022. Presidential elections will go simultaneously with the elections of ordinary members of parliament and local councils’ representatives.
The current president, Julius Maada Bio, will be on the ballot paper seeking re-election. In such a situation, there is a potential for state resources including money, vehicles, personnel, state media and infrastructure to be exclusively used to the advantage of the incumbent.
The major gap in the new law is its silence about campaign financing. Aside from the obligation for political parties to submit their financial statements after elections to the Political Parties Regulation Commission, there is no other provision to regulate money in Sierra Leone’s elections.
Like in many African countries, elective politics in Sierra Leone is monetised and commercialised. Notably, access to party nomination forms and/or symbols is not merit-based but auction-based. It is only those who are able to pay money to party executives that get nominated to carry the party’s flag in the elections, hence leaving out the preferred candidates of the people.
In Sierra Leone, the right candidates that can do the job do not get the chance to be voted for due to lack of money and the electorate regret their choice immediately after the elections.
Vote buying has made it difficult for elected officials to be held accountable to deliver on their campaign promises relying on vote buying for the subsequent election.
Development projects which are donated by candidates during campaigns are used as a means to buy voter support. Already, aspiring candidates are spending on community development projects so that they can appear to be nice and popular.
According to an election observation expert who is also the national coordinator of the National Election Watch (NEW), Sierra Leone’s largest civil society election group, without a sizeable campaign war chest, the chances of one being elected to political position are almost impossible.
Sierra Leone needs a vibrant campaign finance legal framework to insulate the country’s democracy from the toxic effect of unregulated money in elections.