- “I Will Vote What Is in My Heart”: Sierra Leone’s 2012 Elections and the Pliability of “Normative” Democracy
- Anthropological Quarterly
- George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research
- Volume 89, Number 4, Fall 2016
- pp. 1019-1047
- View Citation
- Additional Information
The 2012 national election laws in Sierra Leone addressed the campaign violence and discord experienced in previous elections with heavy restrictions on everyday freedoms such as movement, expression, and assembly. The sitting government requested the presence of international observer missions to legitimate the election as “democratic” in spite of these human rights restrictions. Rather than transforming local practices to conform with international norms, Sierra Leonean lawmakers used bureaucracy and the performance of compliance to buttress local practices involving shows of public unity and the dissimulation of political negotiation into covert venues. By re-energizing practices of political secrecy, Sierra Leoneans achieved their goal of a non-violent election, free of voter fraud. Observers labeled this election “free, fair, and transparent,” consonant with international democratic norms in spite of its marked singularity. The pliability of “normativity” within democratic elections illuminates the notion of “vernacular democracy” as analytically inadequate. Rather, the 2012 elections in Sierra Leone invite anthropologists to focus on the recognition of the exercise of public will as a defining feature of democracy, which exists in a dialogic between the local and global.