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The 2012 Battle for Sierra Leone’s State House: The Real Politic

Abdul R Thomas
Editor - The Sierra Leone Telegraph

9 April 2010

In 2012, President Koroma will go to the people to request a renewal of his mandate to govern the country for a second term. And, should the opposition SLPP decide to elect Dr. Kadi Sesay as their Presidential candidate, she will challenge fellow Northerner - President Koroma, in the battle to win the hearts and minds of the people of Sierra Leone.

Dr. Sesay, a highly qualified and experienced former Trade Minister in the previous SLPP government, has officially declared her intention to stand, and has set out her vision for improving Sierra Leone’s economic prosperity and social justice for all.

Voters will be faced with a clear choice of either electing a new President that represents the previous SLPP government, whose 2007 bid for re-election was rejected by a narrow majority; or the endorsement of President Koroma’s chequered Progress Report Card in achieving his Agenda for Change.

It is therefore rather surprising that based on his current performance; supporters of President Koroma’s government are already predicting the results of the 2012 elections to be a landslide victory for the government.

Electricity in the Capital City they say has improved; health care for young children, lactating and pregnant women will soon be free at point of access; the Anti-Corruption Commission they say is now freer than ever before in fighting corruption. But not everyone is convinced, if daily media reports are to be believed.

Despite the current economic hardship caused by rising inflation, increasing unemployment and falling GDP, which is forecast to continue well into 2012, supporters of the government are confident of electoral victory.

Government revenue from mining production is not expected to show significant improvement until the first half of 2013. Until then, major capital projects, which are scheduled to bring huge political capital for the government in 2012, may either be postponed or scaled down.

Faced with the prospect of contesting against a female Presidential opponent, the 2012 battle for State House would be an all together different proposition for President Koroma.

The usual clash of male testosterone would hopefully have to give way to what is expected to be a less aggressive and violent free contest, as women voters in Sierra Leone are given the chance to realise their 50:50 equality dream. But what are the odds for a Dr. Kadi Sesay Presidential election victory?

There are many who would argue that Dr. Kadi Sesay’s chances are as good as the level of support she can garner from within her own Party – the SLPP. Some may say that it is vital that she can first of all succeed in bringing back into the SLPP family, the splinter PMDC Party, which broke away with disastrous consequences for the SLPP government at the 2007 elections.

The devastating effects of the results of the 2007 elections on the SLPP have caused deep resentment and distrust between the Charles Margai PMDC leadership and the SLPP. Observers say that although with the passage of time, the frost is beginning to thaw, the thought of balancing political expediency against pragmatism, is yet to be internalised by both sides.

Within both Parties there are large swathes of supporters who will not accept the necessity of what is referred to as the PMDC “home coming”. For most hard-line PMDC members, the sheer satisfaction derived from denying the SLPP the chance of winning the 2007 elections, thereby presenting the PMDC Party as the `king maker’, is one they hawkishly believe can be repeated in 2012.

But what can the PMDC gain from this strategy, if their share of the popular votes gained in 2007 diminishes significantly by 2012? Observers believe that with the increasing marginalisation of the PMDC by the ruling APC, and the concerted efforts of President Koroma to directly take votes in the South-eastern heartlands of the SLPP, the PMDC – APC alliance is becoming less significant.

The reality is that should this trend continue, it is unlikely that the PMDC would be able to weaken SLPP’s chances of gaining more than eighty-percent of popular votes in the South-east. But it is their 2007 performance in the constituencies of Freetown that is likely to cause most damage for the SLPP, should support for the PMDC in the Capital remain strong.

With the current leadership woes threatening to cause the disintegration of the embattled PMDC, there are many within the SLPP who are hoping that the increasingly poor performance of the PMDC at recent local bye-elections would speed up that process of disintegration further.

SLPP supporters embittered by the 2007 election results, view the decline in morale within the PMDC, their increasing marginalisation by the Koroma government, and growing apathy within the Party, as an opportunity for disgruntled members of the PMDC to rejoin the SLPP family.

But others are far more cautious. They regard with trepidation, the thought of history repeating itself in 2012, should Charles Margai and his supporters be allowed back into the SLPP family. It seems there is a lot at stake including pride and honour, beyond the need for political cohesion and expediency.

The prospect of losing the 2012 elections on account of a divided South-eastern vote, caused by the PMDC factor, is one that the leadership of the SLPP will have to tackle head on, if they are to improve their chances of stopping the Koroma train from arriving at its destination.

While the PMDC rank and file may acknowledge the harsh reality of trying to survive as an independent, viable entity - lacking critical mass, the extent to which their Party may be needed by the ruling APC Party in order to hold on to power in 2012, would become increasingly questionable, if the popularity of President Koroma improves, especially in key marginal seats.

If President Koroma’s government is perceived by the electorate to be succeeding in tackling corruption, youth unemployment, economic decline, and poor health; they may not after all need the PMDC as a king maker, to give them a second term in office.

It is that worrying sense of vulnerability and uncertainty amongst ordinary PMDC supporters, that could pave the way for a PMDC policy of détente towards the SLPP. This may well lead to a new alliance for `real change’ should both sides be prepared to bite the bullet and stomach the new real politic.

Can Dr. Kadi Sesay act as the unifying and emollient force that could unite Charles Margai and his south-eastern supporters, with their estranged brothers and sisters of the SLPP family? There were rumours on the eve of the 2007 polls, that Dr. Kadi Sesay had led a small delegation of SLPP Party grandees for peace talks with the PMDC leader - Charles Margai.

But with the obvious outcome of those talks, and efforts since then to quietly establish a common platform of mutual interest to both sides, it is not clear whether the voice of reasoning and pragmatism has faltered.

Decision making within the PMDC is becoming as increasingly fragmented and disjointed, as there are growing numbers of factions and cells within the Party – each vying for control. This may hinder any meaningful chance of a 2012 electoral pact or partnership between the SLPP and PMDC.

The SLPP leadership may well have to forget about any such alliance and focus instead on its strengths and capacity to win, based on the credibility of its elected Presidential candidate, its shadow cabinet and a sound manifesto.

While the kadi Sesay factor is just as enticing, strong and powerful as some of the other candidates within the SLPP, the question for the rank and file of the party would be the degree to which the Kadi Sesay factor can be relied upon to lever and take votes away from President Koroma’s stronghold in the Northern half of the country.

SLPP needs to increase its popularity and voter acceptance in the North, far beyond their 2007 performance. Cynics within the SLPP have started to question the depth of Dr. Sesay’s Northern power base.

But sources close to Dr. Kadi Sesay's campaign team, are highly confident of not only her popularity in the North, but also in the Urban districts of Freetown, where SLPP need to sway voters from the ruling APC, with a majority of at least 80% to make up for any shortfall in the Northern region.

This is a mammoth task, but not impossible, as it is widely believed that the majority of female voters in Freetown are yearning to see their first female President.

What difference will Dr. Sesay’s Presidency make to the lives of Sierra Leoneans, should they desire a change in 2012? It is not yet clear as to what her manifesto pledge is likely to be, but her published vision statement mentioned that:

“As a woman and mother, she will provide a strong but caring leadership that will revamp the economy and improve the living standard of the average Sierra Leonean. Kadi will bring to the leadership arena a new energy, freshness and innovation that inspire hope.”

The first and immediate battle for Dr. Kadi Sesay will be to convince the grass-root members and rank and file of the SLPP Party that she is a Presidential asset and a leader that will inspire the majority of Southerners and Northerners, as well as Freetownians to take a leap of faith, and vote for SLPP in 2012. Can she achieve this?

“The SLPP and the country require a visionary, confident and enlightened leadership with experience of how the grassroots people feel and live and what needs to be done. The choice of the first female Presidential candidate for the SLPP this time will demonstrate the shattering of the proverbial glass ceiling and give hope to young Sierra Leonean women that they can attain any position in their country including the highest political office” – says Dr. Sesay’s campaign statement.

But the question now is; can she convince the SLPP members that she is a Presidential asset with immense leadership qualities? 


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