The woman who conducted Sierra Leone’s recent presidential election in which the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) lost has been reflecting on her experiences as chair of the electoral commission. Christiana Thorpe said she is relieved now that what she called the national tension is over.
She told VOA that conducting free and fair elections requires an interactive process with all the stakeholders, professionalism, and playing by the rules.
“I think basically it has to be something like team work, team work meaning interacting with all the stakeholders at different levels, interacting with all the political parties involved, meeting them on a regular basis, let them understand the process because then they’ll establish a platform of understanding among themselves through this interactive session. Then also after the political parties, you need another group, the civil society group. We involve them in the process,” she said.
The outcome of the Sierra Leone election has been generating wide reaction from across Africa because some say it marked one of the few examples in African multi-party elections that the party in power has lost.
Thorpe said her commission would have handled the election the same way even if outgoing President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah were running for re-election.
“You see we meet everybody at their own level, and I interact with people as individuals. The whole thing is professionalism. I respect people in authority across board. By the same token, they should respect me. So we operate at that level. So I would say it really wouldn’t make a difference who the person is. If you’re playing the game by the rules and then we respect each other, I think in the end it comes out clear even though it may not be a happy ending for individuals, but it is a happy ending for the people because this is what democracy is all about, the will of the people,” Thorpe said.
Throughout Africa several opposition groups have complained regularly about the lack of genuine election commissions in their respective countries. Thorpe said it is possible to have truly independent electoral commissions around Africa.
“I would say it is; but it all depends on trust and then the sincerity of purpose and the honesty that goes with it. If you start playing games, then you don’t know where the games will end. But if you are sincere and you treat people sincerely, I think in the end you begin to understand each other,” she said.
A week after the run-off election, the ruling SLPP asked the Supreme Court to stop the Electoral Commission and its chairwoman from announcing any more results. But the commission declared opposition leader Koroma the winner on the day the court was supposed to hear the SLPP motion.
But Thorpe said she did not receive any official communication from the court ordering her not to announce any more results.
“I did not receive any notice to the effect officially until the end of the announcement. We were just going according to our schedule. So I just went ahead with the process,” she said.
Thorpe said she plans to take a rest and thereafter begin preparation for local council elections next year.
Unlike her Liberia counterpart, Frances Johnson-Morris who accepted an appointment from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to be justice minister, Thorpe said she has no intention of accepting a ministerial appointment from President Koroma.
“No, no, I’m not interested in being a minister. I have a five-year mandate with the electoral commission. I have three more years to go, and once I finish that, I will start thinking of something else,” Thorpe said.