By: SLAJ Secretariat
Journalists from various media outlets across the country have benefited from a comprehensive training session on the Proportional Representation (PR) the electoral system the Elections Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) is using for the June 24 elections.
The events, a collaborative effort between the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) and the ECSL, aims to familiarise journalists with the PR system, which is relatively new to many young people in the country.
The training, which was held simultaneously in the cities of Bo, Kenema, and Makeni, provided journalists with a valuable opportunity to delve deeper into the intricacies of the PR system and have their questions answered.
This training comes at a crucial time as the PR system will be utilized in the upcoming elections, to ensure fair representation.
In Freetown, covering Western Urban and Rural, the training was held at the Civil Service Training College on Tower Hill. One of the facilitators Victor Musa, the Assistant Director for Election Education at the ECSL, emphasised that the PR system is not complex or entirely new.
He acknowledged that Sierra Leone predominantly used the first-past-the-post system in the past but highlighted that certain elections will now adopt the PR system. Musa clarified that out of the four upcoming elections, only the presidential and mayoral elections will follow the first-past-the-post system exclusively, while the parliamentary and local council elections will be conducted using the PR system.
Providing further insight into the election processes, Musa explained that the presidential election will employ a two-round system. In the first round, a candidate must secure at least 55% of the votes to win outright. If this threshold is not met, the top two candidates proceed to a runoff, where the first-past-the-post system will be utilized.
Momoh Kanneh, the Director for Election Education at the ECSL, also addressed the journalists and emphasised the significance of the upcoming elections. Kanneh explained the distribution of seats under the new PR system, revealing that there will be 135 parliamentary seats, 22 positions for chairpersons of district councils, mayors of cities and municipal councils, and 493 councillor positions for local councils.
Kanneh shed light on the calculations behind the seat allocation, stating that the decision was based on a compromise between the controversial 2015/2016 census and the 2021 mid-term census. With 132 constituencies identified in the former census and 137 constituencies in the latter census, the ECSL arrived at an average of 134.5, which was rounded up to 135 due to the impossibility of having a half seat.
The threshold for winning a parliamentary seat was calculated to be 11.9%, while the threshold for winning a councillor seat stood at 4.5%. These figures were derived through formulas considering the number of electoral districts and seats in Parliament, as well as the number of local councils and wards.
In order to nominate candidates for the elections, political parties were required to present two lists indicating their first and second choices. The candidates were then organised in numerical order, and seats will be allocated accordingly in each district.
Meanwhile, in Kenema, SLAJ Financial Secretary Mohamed Konneh highlighted the importance of well-informed journalists who can educate the public about the upcoming elections. He discussed the differences between the 2023 election and previous ones, specifically focusing on the use of the Proportional Representation (PR) system. Konneh urged attendees to pay attention to the ECSL representative’s insights on the district block system, which is currently being pursued.
Victoria Vanday Bernard, the SLAJ Regional Chairperson (East), expressed gratitude for the informative session in Kenema. She emphasized the need to understand a system that had not been used in 21 years and welcomed the ECSL representative, anticipating an enlightening session with the commission.
Tamba Taylor, a senior staff member of the ECSL, commended SLAJ for their collaborative efforts in promoting awareness of the PR system. He provided a comprehensive presentation, illustrating the polling process, the roles of key players, and the media’s responsibilities from the opening of polls to the announcement of results.
Taylor clarified that the PR system is not entirely new, as it had been used before in different forms. He explained that the upcoming elections would employ both the PR and First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) systems for various positions. Seats were allocated based on district sizes and populations, as determined by the 2021 midterm census. Independent candidates could run for specific positions, except for the presidency. Taylor discussed the threshold calculations for parliamentary members and councillors.
Recognising the crucial role of the media, Taylor emphasised the importance of professionalism, discipline, and patriotism. He outlined the process of result collation and stressed that only the ECSL would announce the final results.
The training sessions concluded with extensive question-and-answer sessions, providing journalists with the opportunity to seek further clarity on the electoral process.
With journalists now equipped with a better understanding of the PR system, it is expected that they will play a crucial role in educating the public about the new electoral process. This will foster an informed and engaged citizenry ahead of the forthcoming elections in Sierra Leone.
The training ensured that journalists from across the country are well-versed in the PR system and can effectively inform the public about the upcoming elections. The collaboration between SLAJ and ECSL highlights the commitment to promoting transparency and fair representation in Sierra Leone’s democratic processes.