(The thoughts expressed in this article are purely and entirely the thoughts of the author)
Election in any democratic setting, include the enjoyment of those rights that will elicit the full participation of individuals in determining the political life of his/her country. An election is a decision making process through which eligible citizens(those who have reached the age of majority, 18 years and above and with sound mind) freely choose their leaders through the ballot box to hold public offices for a specified term.
Generally, people vote with the expectation that the office holders would represent their communitiesand or countries best interest. Elections are viewed as a central feature of the rule of law, human rights, and democracy. Essentially, election is a testimony to peoples’ sovereignty and that ought to be respected and the process must be credible, otherwise there will be challenge with regards the acceptance of the result.
ELECTIONS SERVE THREE ESSENTIAL PURPOSES
It is my opinion that elections serve three essential purposes. Firstly, elections provide an avenue for the peaceful resolution of competition for political power. Secondly, election confers legitimacy upon office holders who are elected through majority vote and lastly, elections provide an effective avenue for citizens to express their free will and hence participate in the governance of their country. From all indications, election is not a moment for greedy and corrupt politicians to influence the electioneering process, nor dictate the outcome of the result, neither manipulates especially the youths, but election in my opinion should be the expression of the will of the people entitled to vote. Elections are conducted for electorates who have endeavoured to register to freely express their will through the ballot box on who should be their next leader. That is why it is very essential for all eligible voters to endeavour to register from the 20th March, to 16th April, 2017. I subscribed to the notion that Voter Registration is the Heartbeat of Democracy. We register to vote in order to be the architect of our destiny.
VOTER REGISTRATION ESTABLISHES THE ELIGIBILITY OF ELECTORATES TO VOTE
In every electoral process, the most critical and crucial period is what is known as Voter Registration. If conducted well, voter registration confers legitimacy to the process. The entire electoral process may be perceived as illegitimate should the registration exercise be flawed. Voter registration establishes the eligibility of electorates to vote. As one of the more costly, time-consuming and complex aspects of the electoral process, it often accounts for a considerable portion of the budget, staff time and resources of an election management authority. It is important to note that the National Electoral Commission(NEC) did their best with regards mechanism put together for the voter registration exercise. However, by my observation their best does not seem to match up with the general expectation of the public.The registration exercise has lots of challenges ranging from the seemingly complex questions, the low turn-out, the time frame for the completion of registration of a single individual at a centre, the inadequate centres in some locations like Koyah Town, Wellington and also the distance covered to access the registration centres by potential voters in some areas. It is my view that NEC will extendthe voter registration exercise. I might wrong, but the total voter registration is not commensurate to what people were expecting. The registration process is said to be slow due to some of the questions which I think are not relevant by my estimation and I see no necessity to blend the voter registration exercise to that of the civil registration. Both are essential exercises that should be done independently.
THE RIGHT TO PARTICIPATE IN ELECTION IS ONE THE CORNERSTONES OF DEMOCRACY.
The enjoyment of the right to participate in election is one of the cornerstones of democracy. The most fundamental form of participation in decision making exercise like election,is voting in free, fair, credible and regular elections. For citizens to exercise their democratic right to vote, relevant authorities need to establish a comprehensive and inclusive voters’ list, also called a voters’ register. The list should be carefully maintained to ensure that each eligible citizen is registered to vote once and only once in an election.
A voters’ list makes it possible to separate two of the most important functions of the election management authority, namely verifying voter eligibility and controlling the legitimacy of the voting process. Essentially, voter registration list may also be used for several purposes such as in voter education, and should be provided to all registered political parties and candidates to aid them in their campaigns. It is very difficult if not impossible to conduct elections without a credible voter registration exercise.
VOTER REGISTRATION IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPOANTANT TASKS OF ELECTION ADMINISTRATION
It is important to note that for election to be credible, the body conducting the election must ensure that voters have met all eligibility requirements, and there is a detailed list of all registered voters captured, the voters’ list helps confer legitimacy on the electoral process. Conversely, the legitimacy of the process will immediately be called into question if there are problems with the registration of voters, and particularly with the integrity of the voters’ list. As a human rights advocate who has observed Presidential and Parliamentary elections before, I have realized that voter registration exercise is one of the most important tasks of election administration.Essentially, if voter registration exercise is conducted well, voter registration confers legitimacy to the process. But if the body conducting the election carried out the registration exercise in a faulty manner, the entire electoral process may be perceived as illegitimate and that is should the registration exercise be flawed.
VOTERS’ LISTS SUPPORT DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES
It is important to note that voters’ lists support democratic principles by fostering political equality for all citizens and actively promoting the inclusion of eligible voters in the election process. During elections preparation differences may arise over how much effort election management authorities would require to register voters from groups that historically have lower-than-average levels of registration and voter turnout. Normally, these minority groups include: women, the aged, persons that are physically challenged, the homeless, voters in hospitals, youth and first time voters, and the poor. In some developed countries, system is in place through which focused and targeted registration campaigns can be conducted in order to increase the participation of these groups. Am yet to see such mechanism been put in place by the National Electoral Commission in Sierra Leone.
COMPLIANCE OF MULTIPARTY ELECTIONS ALLOW PEOPLES AND COMMUNITIES TO FULLY DEVELOP
It is my opinion that the respect and compliance of multiparty elections allow peoples and communities to fully develop. Essentially the conducts of multiparty election isa positive steps towards building democracy, having respect for human rights and the rule of law. One of the major characteristics of multiparty elections is that it presents alternatives, which enables a choice to be made by electorates between one set of leaders and another. But generally, elections provide a forum for holding politicians accountable for their policies and or their actions. These legitimise the will of the people and ensure that elections act as an agent of social communication and change. It is my view that without a transparent, credible, participatory and legally recognized electoral process, there would be challenges with regards acceptance of result and this eventually will lead to social disorder which will breed underdevelopment in society. That is why it is very important for those in election administration to maintain integrity and follow procedural due process of the law.