Lawmakers in Sierra Leone are preparing a new electoral law with general elections exactly a year from now. Proposals include reserved seats for women, new regulations for voter registration and an improved framework for a government transition. However, there is a section of the bill allowing the electoral commission to cancel votes in an area if there is violence, which presents risks. As President Julius Maada Bio seeks re-election, this loophole is open to abuse by the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) to disrupt collation in opposition strongholds and attempt to gain an advantage through a repeat of voting. Nevertheless, the outlook for transfer of power is stable and the electoral process is expected to progress as scheduled.


The proposed Public Elections Act would repeal a 2012 law of the same title and introduce new regulations to the electoral framework. One of these regulations is the power to cancel elections in an area if the electoral commission determines that there has been violence there.1 A parliamentary election held in 2019 illustrates how this would work in practice.

In 2018, the SLPP won the presidency but lost the majority of seats in parliament to the All People's Congress (APC). The high court then ruled that 10 APC lawmakers-elect were unqualified to contest the elections and ordered SLPP candidates to immediately take nine of the seats. The ruling SLPP consequently overtook the new opposition APC as the majority party, and its seats increased to 58 compared to the APC's 57. A by-election was later scheduled for the tenth seat declared vacant by the high court, and both parties began tussling to control parliament.

The following by-election took place in an APC stronghold and the opposition party was leading when more than 90% of the votes had been counted. The electoral commission then canceled the whole election citing violence at one centre. Indeed, police looked on as non-state actors destroyed voting ballots and disrupted the electoral process. The Sierra Leone Bar Association declared the vote cancellation illegal and a rerun was not held for more than a year.2 Subsequent by-elections in opposition areas have similarly been marred by violence, most recently in Tonkolili district on 12 June. Local media reports link instigators to the ruling SLPP.3


Our risk rating for transfer of power and overall institutional stability is moderate. No incumbent standing for re-election has lost power since civilian rule was fully restored in 1997. The current president Maada Bio was hurriedly sworn in at a hotel when he won his first term in 2018. Now, we note simmering tensions around 2021 census results that were released last month (See: Sierra Leone's new census figures favour ruling party ahead of 2023 elections). The available version of the newly proposed electoral law lacks a timeframe for concluding post-election litigation, and the nature of a 2018 change in Supreme Court leadership signifies gaps in institutional independence.4


1. The Public Elections Bill, 2022. Africanist Press.

2. Constituency 110 election cancellation 'illegal' – Bar Association (2019). Politico SL.

3. Reign of terror in Sierra Leone's Bendugu bye-election (2022). Sierra Leone Telegraph.

4. Was Sierra Leone's chief justice forced to resign? (2018). Africa News.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.