Cornelius O. M. Deveaux: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 November 2020:
The United States of America has long been perceived as the beacon of democracy. Not even the unholy incidents that characterized the conduct of the just concluded presidential election would stain the decorum and etiquette of the American concept of democracy which is firmly built on the notion that “democracy consists of four key elements: a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; the active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; protection of the human rights of all citizens; and a rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.”
Maintaining the integrity of the US electoral system has been the bedrock of the US political system when it comes to choosing and replacing government through free and fair elections. Nonetheless, America’s long history of an enviable electoral system almost suffered a serious dent similar to what obtains in most African countries where the integrity of electoral systems has always been viewed as controversial.
The conduct, in words and actions, of President Donald Trump would not have come as a surprise to the world or warrant a wink if he was an African president presiding over a presidential election in an African country. There would probably be no challenge to the view that if Donald Trump was an African president he would have cancelled the election with the full backing of his political party apparatus or declare himself a winner and use the apparatus of governance to suppress the democratic will of the people. And that Joe Biden would have probably been placed under house arrest or in detention.
Certainly, the outbursts of President Donald Trump replicate a typical authoritarian African leader; a description that may not be far from Sierra Leone’s current president Julius Maada Bio.
Like a typical authoritarian African leader would when the outcome of an election tilts against him, Donald Trump questioned the integrity of the electoral system, wanted to disenfranchise millions of US citizens who voted by mail, attempted to provoke communal violence and also tried to use the judiciary to stop the process of counting while, also, prematurely declaring himself winner.
His was the greatest test ever posed to the integrity of the US electoral system.
Sierra Leoneans should learn from the role of partisan politics in the conduct of the US presidential election, alongside that of the judiciary, media, the Police and the US citizens’ resolve and belief in the concept of free and fair elections.
Of foremost importance are (1) contrary to the fable peddled by supporters of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) that democracy ‘requires that every president serves a two-term mandate irrespective of their performance’, the 2020 US presidential election rubbishes this falsehood exponentially underpinning that a second term mandate depends on the performance of the incumbent and the will of the people as expressed in the ballot box; (2) the responsibility to jealously and zealously protect the integrity of electoral systems rests on every citizen.
While there was no Kabineh Kallon like attitude (a Minister of government disrupting an entire electoral process) nor the Albert Massaquoi like disposition (a feeling that the National Electoral Commission lords it over political parties and the electorate), the spirit of putting nation above self, which has been aptly demonstrated by Femi Claudius Cole, Leader of Sierra Leone’s Unity Party, was the bastion of hope as Americans stoutly protected the integrity of their nation’s electoral system.
By the way, Femi Claudius Cole thinks one way we can protect the integrity of our electoral system was to have declared Kadie Davies winner of the Constituency 110 re-run election and not to conduct a second re-run. I think so too. I wish my party would have been adamant on this. This is an aside.
When it became apparent that Joe Biden was on the cusp of winning the White House President Donald Trump’s attempt to discredit the electoral process by making unsubstantiated claims of vote rigging, voter fraud and obstruction of observers were quickly refuted by members of his Republican party, the media, the judiciary, state authorities involved in the conduct of the election and the US citizens.
In the state of Georgia, where you have a Republican Governor, a Republican Mayor and a Republican Commissioner in charge of elections, Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims were refuted by the Governor, the Mayor and the Commissioner in charge of elections. Even though they belong to the Republican Party and would surely want Donald Trump to win, these fine Americans did not compromise the integrity of the American electoral system for partisan consideration.
Fast forward to Sierra Leone’s 2023 presidential elections, should the SLPP presidential candidate make unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud and both the attitude and disposition of Minister Kabineh Kallon and NEC’s spokesperson Albert Massaquoi come to play, SLPP card carrying members presiding over the PPRC and NEC should be willing to act like the Americans.
Regrettably, the ominous silence of both men in condemning the decision of the Attorney General’s office to provide legal services to the country’s electoral commission, as such will undermine the independence of the electoral commission and compromise the integrity of the country’s electoral process, questions the competence of both men to protect the integrity of the 2023 presidential elections.
There are lessons to also learn from the conduct of the courts. Unlike Sierra Leone’s court system where election petitions are shelved way beyond the constitutional timeframe for arbitration, Donald Trump’s attempt to use the court system to cancel votes and stop the electoral process in key battleground states of Pennsylvania, Georgia and Michigan was futile simply because the courts acted promptly and independent.
The American court system is such that we will not see a Joe Biden presidency using the courts to reduce the Republican majority in both Congress and Senate as was the case in Sierra Leone where the Julius Maada Bio presidency used the courts to reduce an APC majority in the House of Parliament after the 2018 elections. With Sierra Leone’s court system now an appendage of the executive arm of government, the sanctity of the integrity of the 2023 presidential election comes under the spotlight.
An astounding lesson should also be learned from the role of the media. Sierra Leone may not be privilege to have Facebook and Tweeter flagging every falsehood on social media as was the case in the US election but our local networks like the American networks should boldly refuse publicity to falsehood coming from a losing incumbent.
An undiluted lesson from the US 2020 presidential election experience is that old soldiers never die and this was seen in the role played by former president Barack Obama who championed the campaign for Joe Biden and went lengths to see that his former vice president is elected president. Barack Obama is not chairman of his party nor does he hold an executive office. His love for America, his love for his party and his belief that being a former president is not a mandatory early retirement is worthy of emulation as much as the generational mix in the Biden-Harris ticket.
Important also to note is the age of both Trump and Biden as this underscores the view that retirement from politics is voluntary.
In conclusion, it may be the end of an era for the Americans but the outbursts of Donald Trump may very well characterize Sierra Leone’s 2023 presidential elections as both President Trump and President Bio share similar traits in terms of promoting divisiveness and systemic racism/tribalism, failure to condemn Police brutality against citizens and violence against opposition members, failure to implement key election promises such as the building of the Mexico wall and the construction of the Lungi bridge and desperation for a second term.
When in 2023 President Bio would realize that the outcome of the 2023 presidential election is not in his favour he will like Donald Trump want to disenfranchise Sierra Leoneans through various forms of election shenanigans, provoke communal violence with the likely support of the Police and military, declare himself winner and use the courts to do the further biddings.
Sierra Leoneans should learn lessons from the 2020 US elections: that the responsibility to jealously and zealously protect the integrity of electoral systems rests on every citizen.
As a nation, we should not just emulate but espouse the fine role of partisan politics in the conduct of the US presidential election, alongside that of the judiciary, media, the Police, and above all the US citizens’ resolve and belief in the concept of free and fair elections.
Our resolve and belief in the concept of free and fair elections as an acceptable way of choosing leaders and changing government will be put to test in 2023. We must be determined to jealously and zealously guard the integrity of the 2023 elections.
A second term is not mandatory – it is earned.
About the Author
Cornelius Deveaux is a former Deputy Minister of Information and Communications and National Publicity Secretary of the main opposition All Peoples Congress Party in Sierra Leone. He is currently living in exile in The Gambia.