Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

 

The United States government has imposed visa restrictions on officials it says are responsible for undermining democracy in Sierra Leone.

The move follows the disputed June 2023 General Election, which Western observers say lacked transparency.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday that the US will impose visa restrictions on officials who were allegedly involved in the manipulation and rigging of the electoral process, as well as those involved in alleged acts of intimidating voters, election observers and civil society activities.

Read: Sierra Leone violence signals divided nation

“Under this policy, the United States will pursue visa restrictions for those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining democracy in Sierra Leone, including through the manipulation or rigging of the electoral process; intimidation of voters, election observers, or civil society organisations through threats or acts of physical violence; or the abuse or violation of related human rights in Sierra Leone,” Mr. Blinken said in a statement.

The Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) came under heavy criticism from Western observers who slammed the process for lacking transparency, even though some local and regional observers, including the African Union (AU) and Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), cleared it as free and fair.

The main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) believes the electoral process was rigged to favour the incumbent, President Julius Maada Bio and his party.

Bio was declared winner of the presidential race with 56.17 percent of the vote in the first round, while his Sierra Leone People’s Party won an overwhelming majority in the House of Parliament.

The APC, whose candidate Dr Samura Kamara got 41.16 percent of votes, has refused to participate in governance, boycotting parliament and other lower-level governance structures. It demanded a re-run of the election.

The opposition party also refused to seek redress in the courts, citing their lack of independence. It called on western governments to impose sanctions on the president and his top officials it holds responsible for allegedly rigging the polls.

But details of the individuals targeted by the US visa policy weren’t immediately revealed by Secretary Blinken, who only stated that the policy will apply to “specific individuals” and not the Sierra Leonean people.

Family members of the targeted individuals may also be subject to these restrictions, he noted.

“Persons who undermine the democratic process in Sierra Leone—including in the lead-up to, during, and following Sierra Leone’s 2023 elections—may be found ineligible for US visas under this policy,” he said, stressing that the decision reflected the commitment of the United States to support Sierra Leoneans’ aspirations to have free and fair elections that “demonstrate the will of the people and strengthen democracy and the rule of law.”

The US government had asked the Sierra Leone government to constitute an investigation on the process and ensure it corrects legal loopholes it believes led to the dispute.

The government appointed a committee to investigate the matter, but US officials said the wrong people were entrusted with the task, suggesting instead the constitution of an independent panel.

President Bio in July angrily rejected Western interference in the country’s electoral process, declaring that no outsider had the right to validate the outcome of its elections.

The East African

By Admin

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