Margai Suggests an All-Party Dialogue Ahead of Elections in Sierra Leone

Map of Sierra Leone. (Source: C.I.A. World Factbook)

Charles F. Margai, the interim leader of the People's Movement for Democratic Change (P.M.D.C.) of Sierra Leone, expressed great concern last month about possible rigging of the upcoming 2007 parliamentary and presidential election. Margai, who was heading a Transatlantic Tour for Positive Change in the United States, expressed his concern when his delegation and high-ranking officials of P.M.D.C.-U.S.A. met with Dave Peterson, senior director of the African Program for the National Endowment for Democracy (N.E.D.) in Washington, D.C.

"It is very difficult to remove an incumbent government even under a good democratic system because they have the advantage of state apparatus. Worst yet, Sierra Leone is not ruled by democracy-loving leaders. They are bent on winning the elections by any means possible, even in disregard of the voters' desire," Margai told his host.

In a calm disposition that was laden with concern over looming election malpractices and subsequent violence, Margai offered some suggestions on how he thinks the international community could help.

Margai reiterated on what he has been telling his supporters since the tour began in early November:

We are not afraid that the S.L.P.P. [Sierra Leone People's Party] will win through rigging. We are apprehensive that such action would be against the will of the voters, in which case there would be further uprising that I myself would find very difficult to control. The Sierra Leonean has suffered immensely over the past decade that the only thing we can now count on to ensure that we avoid repeating our recent past is our votes, and if anyone whether it be Margai or anyone else tries to disenfranchise the voters, such an action would bear a bitter fruit.

It was quite an interesting meeting owing to the fact that some people say Margai is arrogant. But being a witness to an ensuring debate between Margai and two young fellows, Pa-Momoh Fofanah, his legal adviser, and Ansu Lansana, the P.M.D.C. secretary general, in Peterson's office was quite an eye opening experience for me.

In this meeting that was more or less characterized by frantic brainstorming meant to seek help to stop the S.L.P.P. from rigging the elections, Lansana's suggestion for an independent judge to oversee the elections and to help to interpret the electoral rules was met by an outright concern for national sovereignty infringement from Margai. But Lansana rephrased his point when he compared it to the foreign judge that sits on the Anti-Corruption Commission before Margai agreed that it was an excellent idea.

Peterson made it bluntly clear that the N.E.D. was not in any position to give material assistance to political parties, but would fund programs through local N.G.O.'s that can train party officials in the proper way of conducting and monitoring elections. He gave the P.M.D.C. party officials many tips to work with as far as attracting support from democracy-loving organizations, especially those that are often present on the ground to monitor elections.

One brilliant suggestion came from Margai when he thought aloud that it would be healthy if the N.E.D. could sponsor an all-party dialogue in which three top officials from the three major contending parties could sit down and have a healthy dialogue in Washington, D.C., in front of the Sierra Leonean ambassador to the United States before the elections. Peterson picked up on that, and called it "a brilliant idea that has emanated from the brainstorming." He said the N.E.D. would gladly help to sponsor such an all-party dialogue in the United States.

The United Nations had over 17,000 soldiers in Sierra Leone as early as last year to bring peace after 10 years of one of the most atrocious wars in recent years. Many observers believe the 2007 elections will be the litmus test for whether democracy will fully return to Sierra Leone.

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