Yankuba G Kai-Samba
Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 July 2016
Fellow members of the GOP – the SLPP
I have made my opposition to the re-election of Julius Bio as our party’s flagbearer abundantly clear, as far possible as I can. I believe Bio is bad for SLPP unity, progress and election victory.
Today I want to turn my attention to the multiple aspirants and warn them of the dangers of inadvertently helping re-elect Julius Bio.
I am getting fed up with the multiple aspirants who are united by their determination to save the party, yet going their separate ways without any common strategic coherence as to how to defeat Julius Bio, who by common understanding is the major barrier to SLPP’s chances of victory.
It just does not make sense when they believe Bio is the problem and the least equipped and likely to unite the party and win a general election, yet they are not seeing the real risks of splitting the anti Bio’s votes among eleven aspirants.
Bio has demonstrated all the issues that made him a divisive and polarising figure and lacking leadership.
The All Aspirants Alliance (AAA) has a noble idea, invented to deal with some of the major issues that divide the party and stalling progress.
They may have achieved some of their aims, but the critical issue facing the party is to restore the party’s damaged reputation and elect a credible centrist presidential material.
This can only be achieved if Bio is stop from being elected again as the party’s flagbearer for the 2018 election.
For this to happen, the AAA or other aspirants, needs to maximise their strengths and resources to put up one candidate against Bio. Such a candidate should have the capability or had demonstrated the potential to unite the party even after the election, something which Bio could not do following his election in 2011 as the flagbearer.
The way I measured up things is that Keili and Yumkella can become president. But it seems to me that unity command paramount principles in any negotiation and only one is more likely to demonstrate that quality to lead a united front in this particular contest.
I am reluctant to give a clear opinion or preference on this proposition, though I have, but would rather live it to the AAA themselves.
Multiple candidates against Bio in a first past the post election system is fraught with uncertainties. And in my view, this existing voting system still favours Bio, who could win by a single vote with the smallest percentage of the total votes.
If this were to happen, which cannot be ruled out because of the multiplicity of aspirants, we might see the same problems as in 2011, where the winner was rejected by over 60% of the delegate votes but nevertheless led the party with a far lesser mandate. This, as evidenced in the past could engender further disunity and defections.
The anti Bio delegate votes, if we use the 2011 results, over 60% had rejected Bio. But in the absence of a preferential voting system as in 2011, that 60% could split among the eleven other flagbearers, making it more difficult and uncertain to stop Bio.
An amendment to the current first past the post system to a preferential voting system is most democratic and suitable, where there are multiple candidates. More importantly, the preferential system will elect a consensus presidential candidate with overwhelming support from across various factions in the SLPP.
That will make unity easier, when led by a flagbearer elected by at least over 50% of the delegate votes.
The chances of a national party wining a general election is lowered by the type of leader the party elects. There are some parallels between what the opposition Labour Party in Britain has been experiencing in general elections with SLPP, although SLPP’s sister party is the ruling conservative party.
Whilst Labour leadership election favours left wingers and elected their leaders from the left, those leaders, though with popular mandate from the party have never won general elections.
There is no doubt that the current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was elected by 60% of the party membership. While he seemingly maintains significant grassroots support, Jeremy has lost the overwhelming support of the parliamentary labour members who have passed a no confidence motion against his leadership.
Technically, this rendered his position untenable. But he believes he still has the support of the Labour grassroots and is relying on their support. But Labour grassroots do not elect prime minister in a general election. Just as in Sierra Leone, it is the general public that elect president.
Two candidates have now challenged his leadership in just over a year since he was elected. Both candidates are now under pressure from the Labour party to present one candidate, if they are to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn.
They have agreed and recognised the need to defeat Corbyn, whom they regard as lacking in leadership – with a no confidence motion to prevent him from taking the party down an electoral defeat.
Like Labour in UK, the SLPP in Sierra Leone has never won a general election on the basis of the flagbearer’s popularity within his party. Jeremy Corbyn can rightly claim genuine popularity among the Labour grassroots, as he got 60% of the leadership votes than Bio in SLPP who got 38%, with 60% not in his favour.
But Jeremy, like Bio, is unelectable. Even the former failed Labour leader who is also a left winger – Neil Kinnock, has acknowledged this and is working with others to save the Labour party by replacing Jeremy Corbyn.
Tony Blair was the only Labour prime minister who won three general elections in a row. He was not popular among the Labour grassroots. Similarly, President Kabba was the only man to have won two general elections for SLPP in a row. He also like Tony Blair was not popular within his party.
Britain elects their leader from the centre or centre right of the political spectrum. Bio and Jeremy are far from the centre. Jeremy is too far left and Bio is polarising and controversial with heavy baggage. They are both divisive and lack the support of their party’s establishment.
Michael Foot, that brilliant Oxfordian former Labour leader was left of centre. He lost to the conservatives at the time when the conservative government was deeply unpopular.
Labour replaced him with Neil Kinnock, another left of centre. He also lost to the conservative at a time when the country was looking for a change of government.
Labour again elected a left of centre leader Ed Milliband – rejecting his older brother David Milliband who was a Blairite. And the conservatives admitted they feared David.
But Labour’s Electoral College generally favoured left wingers and the trade unions within the Labour party were anti Tony Blair, whom they accused of promoting conservative policies. So they gave their bloc votes to Ed, stopping David wining as revenge against Blair.
Ed Milliband, another Oxfordian but more left than his failed predecessors, lost the election to the conservatives with a surprising overall majority for the conservatives.
Had David Milliband won the Labour leadership – rather than Ed, the conservative party could have found it very difficult to win the last election as David was centre right, the same position in which Blair had won three unprecedented election for Labour.
What is sad for the Labour party is that they have lost successive elections at a time when the ruling conservatives were unpopular in the country, and people were looking for change.
As if the Labour party has not learnt its lessons, they elected Jeremy Corbyn after Ed Milliband had taken them to the worst defeat at the hands of the conservatives. Ironically, Jeremy is further left of centre than Ed Milliband.
Jeremy is not electable. A credible UK newspaper reported with names of some conservative supporters who revealed they had registered with the Labour party and voted for Jeremy Corbyn, as he is seen as the surest way of perpetuating conservative rule.
This is very similar to what is happening currently in Sierra Leone, where the ruling APC saw the re-election of Bio as leader of SLPP, as strategically favourable to their ambition of remaining in power after the 2018 elections. There are many reasons for this, which I need not repeat here.
About the Author
Yankuba G Kai-Samba is a former SLPP (UK) Secretary General and Retired UK Civil Servant.