Sierra Leone Telegraph: 16 November 2015
Things cannot get any worse for the main opposition political party of Sierra Leone – the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), as it suffered one of the most spectacular electoral defeats in its history last weekend.
With the exception of Bonthe, the party lost four of the five bye-elections contested.
SLPP received a resounding beating by the ruling APC party, whose credibility has reached rock bottom after massive corruption scandals, and their catastrophic mismanagement of the Ebola crisis that has taken the lives of over 4,000 people.
Supporters of the opposition SLPP may have failed to turn up in their droves at polling stations across the country, where bye-elections were held last Saturday, but there is little doubt the few that turned up to cast their votes, were either suffering from political amnesia, or confused as to who were the official candidates of the party.
Whatever the reasons for the SLPP supporters staying away from the polling stations last weekend, or refusing to vote for the official party candidates, what must be said is that SLPP has now reached rock-bottom in popularity.
Bye elections were held in Sierra Leone on Saturday 14th of November, 2015, in the following constituencies: Parliamentary bye election in Constituency 107 in the Western Area Urban District; Local Council bye elections in Ward 10 – Kailahun District Council; Ward 34 – Kenema District Council; Ward 261 – Bonthe Municipal Council; and Ward 329 – Western Area Rural District Council.
These are the results:
Parliamentary bye election in Constituency 107 in the Western Area Urban District
Voter Turnout – 8,786 (25.6%)
Voter registration – 34,322
SLPP (Alhaji Kamara) – 2,251
APC (Francis Kowa) – 5,482
PMDC (Saidu Mansaray) – 142
ADP (Saidu Kalokoh) – 287
Local Council bye elections in Ward 10 – Kailahun District Council
Voter Turnout – 2,192 (49%)
Voter registration – 4,460
SLPP – 722 (36%)
APC – 1,221 (60.9%)
PMDC – 60
Ward 34 – Kenema District Council
Voter Turnout – 3,013 (63.9%)
Voter registration – 4,714
SLPP – 482
APC – 1,025
Independent – 1,340
PMDC – 63
Ward 261 – Bonthe Municipal Council
Voter turnout – 812 (59%)
Voter registration – 1,374
SLPP – 395 (51%)
APC – 257 (33%)
PMDC – 125 (16%)
Ward 329 – Western Area Rural District Council
Voter turnout – 3,659 (19.5%)
Voter registration – 18, 736
APC – 2,218 (64%)
SLPP – 654 (19%)
NDA – 397 (11%)
ADP – 178
The remarkably low turnout by the SLPP supporters, lack of evidence of vote rigging, coupled with the unprecedented violence free atmosphere across all the polling stations, in many respects seriously call into question the ability and preparedness of the SLPP to defeat the ruling APC in 2018, when general and presidential elections will be held.
The post-mortem into SLPP’s shocking defeat has just begun. The recriminations and blame game too, have started. But after all is said and done, SLPP has only got itself to blame for this spectacular defeat.
The defeat of the SLPP at the 2012 presidential and general elections, after losing spectacularly to the APC in 2007 – notwithstanding allegations of massive vote rigging by the APC and the nullifying of hundreds of thousands of SLPP votes, simply opened up deep divisions and resentments about party leadership and presidential candidacy.
And now in 2015, with two years to go before general and presidential elections are held, SLPP is struggling to put up a serious contest against a ruling party, whose flip-flopping government has a lot to answer for in terms of good governance.
Speaking to senior SLPP party grandees today about SLPP’s defeat at the polls, it is clear there are several reasons as to why the party failed so spectacularly last weekend.
Since holding its controversial national convention in 2011 when the party elected former Brigadier Julius Maada Bio as its presidential candidate, it seems a bad spell has been cast on the party’s fortunes. That ominous 2011 flagbearer election result – marred by serious accusations of electoral malpractice and corruption, sparked a wave of resignations and defections by several senior party members.
Then came the 2012 general and presidential elections. Brigadier Bio was expected by party faithful to prove that he had the whole nation behind him. But he failed – spectacularly.
SLPP performed woefully, losing almost all seats in Kono district. In the capital Freetown, it failed to win a single constituency. In the north of the country, the party did not win a single seat either.
This abysmal failure by the SLPP presidential candidate – Brigadier Julius Maada Bio to convince the people of Sierra Leone that, he has what it takes to lead and galvanise the nation, simply reinforced and deepened the divisions and growing uneasiness within the SLPP party. Things have fallen apart.
The wave of Supreme Court cases that has dogged the party, has not helped the party’s cause. But who created the conditions that have instigated one court case after another, leaving the party almost impotent to run its affairs?
These court cases are symptomatic of the deep divisions within the SLPP party. They have led to distrust, bitterness and in some cases violence.
These bitter divisions have not surprisingly, once again played out at polling stations across the country at last weekend’s bye-elections.
A senior SLPP executive told the Sierra Leone Telegraph under anonymity: “Those poor bye-election results were all down to the disunity and divisions within the party. We had SLPP party members campaigning against the official candidate of their own party, on the grounds that he does not belong to their own camp, does not support their preferred flagbearer aspirant – as in the case in Freetown and especially in Kenema, where the Bio camp put up an independent candidate against their own party.”
Perhaps the most important factor accounting for SLPP’s abysmal defeat last weekend is the growing, nationwide voter apathy with the opposition SLPP.
No one likes to be associated with a party that is constantly beating itself on the head and engaging in self-indulgent tantrums, each time they are asked to objectively deal with their internal leadership crisis.
Its becoming glaringly obvious that until such time the party can put its own house in order, voters will find it very difficult to trust and accept that the party can put the country’s affairs in order.
SLPP’s inability and lack of maturity to pull itself out of the rot it got into, after that controversial decision to elect Brigadier Maada Bio as its presidential candidate in 2011, continues to rip the party apart.
And four years on, lessons have not been learnt, nor is the party willing to accept that such a divisive leader cannot win a bye-election, let alone a general election in Sierra Leone.
Whilst the ruling APC is doing its best to falsely present its eight years performance in government as brilliant, the opposition SLPP has either failed to change voters’ perception of the ruling APC, or voters simply do not believe that the SLPP is a better alternative.
With the government’s poor management of the Ebola crisis that took the lives of over 4,000 people; the disappearance of $14 million from the Ebola funds – squirreled away by government officials and their cronies; massive corruption in high places – including the misappropriation of $12 million the government said it spent on buying just 50 buses; the declining economy; rising youth unemployment; and the appalling lack of access to water and electricity in the country, anyone would have expected SLPP to have performed much better at the polls. But they did not.
The party failed to win votes even in its own backyard – Kenema and Kailahun, SLPP’s political heartlands.
There are allegations of massive electoral bribery by president Koroma, using Brigadier Maada Bio as his conduit in the SLPP controlled constituencies. But putting these allegations aside, it is difficult to deny the fact that voters across the country are very apathetic towards the SLPP, whose continuous internal strife is turning voters off.
A defeat at this scale and level for any political party is not only spectacular, but raises serious questions about whether SLPP can pull itself together in time for the 2018 general and presidential elections.
Speaking to the Sierra Leone Telegraph today, Dr. Jonathan Tengbe, who is one of the SLPP contenders for the presidential candidacy, and also a key architect of the SLPP peace initiative, said this about the bye-election results: “The results are definitely not in our favour. It is a reflection or continuation of the 2012 election results. This is because we have failed to do the lessons learnt exercise, and failed also to put the correct strategies in place. This is clearly the result of disunity within the Party.”
But he also said that: “This is why almost all SLPP Flagbearer Aspirants have come together as a united force, following the Conferences in September and November 2015, to position our Party as a formidable force for the 2017/2018 General Elections.”
With regard to any talk of internal recriminations and blame game, Dr Tengbe said: “This is not the time when any SLPP loss should be seen as a matter of ‘I told you so’. This should be a time when we should be asking: ‘Why?’; ‘how do we stop this?’; and ‘how do we stop this party infighting?’
“Anybody who wins the party flagbearer would have just won a battle. But why destroy everything needed to fight a war, just for the sake of a battle?” Dr. Tengbe asks.
As the post- mortem begins into the spectacular defeat suffered by the SLPP at the bye-election polls last weekend in the hands of the ruling APC, it seems tonight there are more questions than answers.
But one key question that needs answering by SLPP rank and file members fast, is this. Is Brigadier Julius Maada Bio the best man to lead the SLPP into the 2018 elections, after proving time and again that he cannot unify the party, nor is he capable of leading the country?
Click here to read the official Electoral Commission bye-election results: