Politicians, former rebels and civil society representatives gave the thumbs up to a new election system in Sierra Leone at a three-day national consultative meeting in the capital, Freetown, government and NGO sources told IRIN on Friday. Information Minister Cecil Blake described the 13-15 November meeting as "very successful". He said it achieved a "near national consensus and victory for Sierra Leone".
The meeting approved the scrapping of the proportional representation system under which parties were awarded seats in parliament on the basis of the percentage of votes they polled in the various constituencies throughout the nation. Under the new system, legislators will be elected in their districts.
"Each party will have a nominee from the district - someone homegrown - who will be accountable to the district," Blake explained. "The district block system at first met with some resistance because of inadequate understanding of the system but by the end of the conference, all the groups agreed it was the best option," he told IRIN.
The meeting, organised by the National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights, brought together more than 250 delegates representating 22 political parties, government, civil society and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
Given the short time left before elections slated for May 2002, delegates realised the proportional majority-based elections were not feasible, Olayinka Creighton-Randall, executive assistant at Sierra Leone's Centre for Good Governance, told IRIN. "A national census would have to be conducted, constituency boundaries would have to be redrawn and refugees and internally displaced people would have to be resettled to their original homes before the constituency-based elections," she said.
"All the same, the delegates reiterated that elections would only be held after the completion of disarmament," she said.
A minimum of 30 percent representation for women in decision-making positions, the creation of a ministry for youth affairs, reconstruction and development in key sectors, and reintegration of the displaced were other issues included in the resolutions approved by the meeting.
"Some gray areas still remain unsolved such as the lifting of the state of emergency which has been in force since 1999, people still in detention without trial and the return of abducted children," Creighton-Randall said. She added that it was decided that the state of emergency would be lifted in "adequate time" to allow parties ample time to campaign.
Sierra Leone is now emerging from a decade of war between the state and RUF rebels in which thousands died, were maimed or suffered displacement. State authority is gradually being restored to former rebel-held areas as a result of a disarmament process interrupted in 2000 and resumed in mid-2001.
"A consultative meeting such as this was just what Sierra Leone needed," Creighton-Randall said. "There is goodwill and a desire for peace."
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