An ECOWAS Mission of 15 Long-Term Observers (LTOs) has arrived in Sierra Leone for the country’s presidential, parliamentary and local council elections scheduled for March 7.

This was disclosed in a statement issued the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) on its website on Sunday.

ECONEC is the umbrella organization of Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) in West Africa founded in 2008 to promote free, fair and credible elections.

The LTOs team, according to the statement is part of a larger 55-member ECOWAS Observation Mission led by Liberia’s former Interim President, Prof. Amos Sawyer, who would be arriving along with the Short-term observers.

It stated that the regional observers would be deployed across Sierra Leone’s 16 administrative districts for the elections.

“The ECOWAS Mission, which includes legal, elections, constitutional, gender, civil society and media experts, and secretariat staff of the ECONEC are deployed by the ECOWAS Commission.

“The mission are deployed in line with the regional protocol on democracy and good governance, which mandates ECOWAS to support member States holding elections.

“The Mission is supported by a Technical team from the ECOWAS Commission,” it stated.

It added that ECOWAS, after contributing to end the 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone has continued to support the consolidation of peace and democracy in the country.

“This is the fourth multi-party election in Sierra Leone since the end of its civil war in 2002, but the first time that authorities in the country would be entirely responsible for the electoral process following the departure of the UN Mission in 2014.”

It noted that ECONEC conducted a Needs Assessment Mission to Sierra Leone in July 2017 led by Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, President of its Governing Board and Chair of the National Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) Nigeria.

“This was followed by an advocacy that resulted in the pledge of some logistic support to Sierra Leone by Nigeria.

“ECOWAS has also carried out a pre-election fact-finding Mission to Sierra Leone which involved consultations with various stakeholders.

“The consultations are to ensure peaceful, credible and successful elections for the consolidation of peace and democracy in the country and the region.”

Sierra Leone elections are being contested by 16 presidential candidates, including two women, and more than 700 contenders for the 144-seat unicameral parliament.

One hundred and thirty-two of the lawmakers will be elected directly complemented by 12 slots for Paramount Chief Members of Parliament.

The constitution provides that a presidential candidate must obtain at least 55 per cent of the votes for an outright win otherwise the two frontrunners will square up in a run-off vote within two weeks after the declaration of the results of the first round.