The fate of Sierra Leone's presidential election hangs in the balance after a coalition of civil society organisations challenged the March 7, 2018 date.
The coalition, which monitors elections in the West African state and some opposition political parties, have questioned the legality of the date announced by National Electoral Commission this week.
NEC on Wednesday announced March 7 date, following consultations with incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma.
The National Election Watch (NEW) and two political parties say the date falls outside the constitutional limit of 90 days allowed for an election after the term of the incumbent president expires.
Free and fair
NEW is a coalition of local and international organisations with an objective of ensuring free and fair election.
In a statement, it asked the electoral agency to explain the apparent extension of President Koroma’s term by about two weeks outside the constitutional limit.
NEW chairperson Marcela Samba-Sesay said the move contravened the constitution as well as the regional bloc Ecowas’ Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.
NEC had long identified February as the month for the elections, and the CSOs were expecting the final date to fall within the same month.
“NEW is therefore calling on NEC, mandated by the constitution, to explain to the citizens why the extension of the date for presidential elections beyond the 23rd February 2018,” it says in its statement.
NEW also urged the electoral body to provide a comprehensive and final electoral calendar.
In his televised nationwide address on Tuesday, President Koroma also said the much anticipated referendum to approve the draft constitution would be held in September.
The civil society wants that date shifted to after the 2018 election cycle. They say it was unfeasible to undertake the referendum within the "limited" time frame.
NEW’s statement contained a number of other demands relating to outstanding recommendations stemming from the 2012 polls, including ensuring political parties did not engage in campaigning outside the official period sanctioned by NEC.
The presidential hopeful for the Alliance Democratic Party, Mr Mohamed Kamaraignba Mansaray, was quoted by the daily Awoko calling NEC a puppet of the ruling party.
He claimed the incumbent was manipulating the commission and that the date for presidential election was deliberately chosen to prolong his stay in office.
Firebrand politician Charles Francis Margai, the third place candidate in the 2012 presidential race, called for reversal of the president’s announcement.
In a strongly worded statement, Mr Margai, a lawyer, accused the president of usurping the role of the electoral commission, among others.
There was widespread suspicion that the incumbent wanted provisions in the new constitution to take effect in the 2018 elections.
Mr Margai ruled that out, citing several constitutional provisions.
"It is our hope that Mr President is not of the view that, whatever comes out of the referendum to be held, will impact on the pending elections,” he said.
There was also opposition against holding presidential, parliamentary and local council elections on the same day.
But deputy Information minister Cornelius Deveaux ruled out changing the date or differing any election, noting that the decision had financial ramifications.
According to him, the elections were being funded 100 per cent by the government which could only afford them at one go.