Police Plans To Ban Private Vehicles On Elections Day

Police in Sierra Leone plans to enforce an unpopular vehicular movement restriction on Election Day.  The plan may cause a commotion and defeat any intended purpose.

As evident in press releases traded this week between the police and the leadership of opposition political parties, including the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and the National Grand Coalition (NGC).

Police Determination To Force Unpopular Ban May Misfire.

Police Want Private Vehicles Off The Road

Police Want Private Vehicles Off The Road

Tensions are mounting over the planned attempt by the Sierra Leone Police to restrict vehicular movement on election day—March 7, 2018.

All major opposition parties, including the SLPP, NGC, the Coalition for Change (C4C), and the Alliance Democratic Party (ADP) have reportedly refused to sign a consent memo proposed by the police.

The memo is intended to serve as evidence of consent to the restriction by opposition parties, making it binding on their members.

Opposition parties have argued that the restriction will not only violate fundamental rights to free movement on election day but will give an unfair advantage to supporters of the ruling party, many of whom may have disproportionate access to police clearances.

The standoff could lead to a much larger security implication that has the tendency to compromise the peaceful running of the elections in general.

A similar vehicular movement restriction was consented to by all political parties during the 2012 election. But the 2012 restriction arguably ended up given an unfair advantage to ruling party operatives and limiting movement of voters in general.

Many have argued that such a restriction is not only illegal but unnecessary, given that police emergency vehicles have traditionally enjoyed the right of way in traffic.

Accordingly, a restriction on vehicular movement on election day may not be a requirement for smooth police operation.

The Sierra Leone Bar Association, along with a number of civil society organizations have characterized the attempted restriction as unfounded and lacking a legal basis.

Also, there is no precedent in the sub-region for vehicular movement restriction on election day.

Highly contested elections have taken place in Nigeria, Ghana, and the Gambia in the past couple of years; and recently across the border in Liberia without any form of restrictions on movement.

Many have argued that even the 1996 election which was conducted during war times did not witness a restriction on movement.

With the legality and the intended purpose of the restriction in question and the opposition parties vowing not to abide by it, the police are left with two options – either to abandon the planned restriction or attempt to enforce it by force.

And enforcing the restriction by force comes with an unprecedented logistical challenge and burden on the already limited force.

The police will have to mount checkpoints on all streets in Freetown and in the targeted provincial headquarter towns.

They will have to stop all vehicles that approach the checkpoints, turn the drivers away or arrest disobedient drivers and impound their vehicles.

If several hundred vehicles attempt to drive on the streets and get stopped at checkpoints across the city and towns, there may be widespread confrontations or clashes, as well as major interruptions in the flow of traffic.

This will likely limit the movement of other essential personnel, including officials of the National Electoral Commission, election observer teams, and the press.

To effectively manage the situation, the police will need to deploy several hundred personnel and logistics for just the purpose.

It will essentially become a logistics nightmare for the police. And if the police attempt to be heavy-handed, it could easily get out of hand given such a politically-charged atmosphere.

The standoff could lead to a much larger security implication that has the tendency to compromise the peaceful running of the elections in general.

Such an engagement will also prevent the police from effectively providing security at over ten thousand polling stations and tally centers, where they are needed the most.

As a result, the cost of enforcing what now appears to be an unpopular restriction may outweigh any intended benefit, thereby defeating the purpose altogether.

By Mustapha Wai
MambaTV, Washington D.C.
February 5, 2018