Bio’s missed opportunity to set agenda for strong oppositioning

6 January 2013

Bo districtThe elections in Sierra Leone are long gone, as the vast majority of people in the country get on with the arduous task of putting food on the table. There are few signs around now, of elections having taken place – just two months ago, which saw the incumbent winning a landslide victory.

Yet the real national agenda – tackling poverty, disease and illiteracy, remains the same, for a country considered as one of the poorest nations in the world, despite vast mineral and natural resources that ought to be netting an annual GDP of well over $100 Billion.

With a government in power that has presided over, and accused of gross mismanagement of public affairs, rampant corruption and ineptitude, one would expect the country’s main opposition party – the SLPP, to be leading a strong and effective coalition of dissenting voices, holding the government to account.

But there are serious and deep rooted problems within the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), which ought to be at the top of its agenda for 2013 and beyond.

The constitutional, organisational and management errors made by the party in the seven year period leading up to the 2012 elections, must account once again for their defeat at the 2012 polls, after losing also in 2007.

Bio supporters in FreetownAnd there is little doubt the expectations of the more than 30% of electorate, who voted for the SLPP, is for the party to rise from the ashes of defeat, suffered at the polls and quickly learn from the serious mistakes made well before the 2012 elections.

Those voters would now want the SLPP to consolidate, re-organise, plan and deliver an effective strategy for a strong opposition, which is capable of holding the government to account for their actions and decisions, rather than the constant and persistent desire to look elsewhere for someone to blame for the party’s  failures.

The party is seriously at risk of losing sight of what really matters in politics and how it can be accomplished.

Its current preoccupation with pursuing a court action to prove that November’s election was neither free nor fair, is a serious deflection from the task of raising the party from the ashes of defeat and build for 2017.

The solutions to the party’s structural and constitutional problems will certainly not be found in the courts, but through honest and sober internal reflections, hard decision making and significant culture change.

Dragging an Electoral Commissioner to the Supreme Court to prove that she was in breach of the country’s electoral laws and hence the reason that the SLPP lost the elections, will not change the outcome of those elections, nor the current political landscape of the parliament.

President Koroma now has more than two-thirds majority in the country’s parliament, a formidable task for the opposition – trying to stop government excesses.

In 2007 when the SLPP launched a similar expensive and time consuming court battle against the very same Electoral Commissioner, it took almost four years for a court decision to arrive.

And when it did come, unsurprisingly, it made no difference to the 2007 election results, as president Koroma continued to rule to the end of his first term in office.

bio in reading6Yet, the SLPP party leadership seems to have learnt very little, if anything, from that painful and sobering experience, as the New Year’s message to the people of Sierra Leone by the presidential candidate – Julius Maada Bio suggests.

Speaking in Freetown as the nation welcomes the New Year, it is obvious that Bio’s mission now is to pursue what is going to be an elusive, long-drawn search for justice – through the courts, after losing comprehensively at the polls in November.

But at what cost?

The party leader has chosen to dwell in the past, rather than look forward to a brighter future for the party and its chances in 2017.

Whilst there is not much wrong in looking back at what could have been, the danger though, is that one could easily find himself stuck in the past and refusing to accept, let alone address internal party failings.

He said that; “It is therefore not difficult to understand why, on November 17, Sierra Leoneans moved determinedly in their numbers to the polling stations to cast their vote. They were in high spirits, in long queues and in peace and tranquillity, so much so that they earned the admiration of all who came from far and near to observe the elections.

“However, what the voters did not know, and could not have known, was that Madam Christiana Thorpe and the National Electoral Commission (NEC), which she heads, had colluded with the APC that their vote would not be counted.

“This is especially true for the people who voted in the North, Western Area and Kono District. They stood patiently for hours under the burning sun to cast their ballot. But they laboured in vain; their sacrifice was turned into an exercise in futility.”

Of course few would deny that there were electoral discrepancies, which contributed to president Koroma’s victory. But to overplay the role of electoral malpractice, whiles ignoring or playing down the significance of poor party management and the lack of organisational cohesion, is unhelpful and far too convenient.

election registrationSerious concerns were raised about the NEC’s lapses in planning and organising the elections, several months before they were held, by various sections of the media and the SLPP. Hence many believe that the SLPP had lost the elections even before they were held.

The party leaders knew that the odds were greatly stacked against them, yet chose to contest the elections, hoping that justice and fairness will prevail.

So why did the party choose to participate when they could have continued their protest and refuse to take part in the elections?

This is what Bio said:

“The combined effect of this new statutory power of NEC and the biometric system of voter registration induced a widespread belief that vote-rigging has been made a thing of the past.

“As the SLPP Presidential candidate for the 2012 Elections, the Party and I had placed implicit trust in the independence and integrity of NEC, when we went into those elections.

“Were this not the case, the SLPP could easily have withdrawn its participation from those elections.

“We just couldn’t imagine that NEC and its officials would, against the backdrop of the national suffering wrought by the 11-year civil war, callously undress themselves of their obligatory impartiality and replaced it with a garment that is unmistakably conspiratorial.

“Their main motivation could only have been the irresistible power of money, which the ruling party seemed to have had in abundance and which it unashamedly discharged at various points along the elections strategic command.”

bio in reading9For Maada Bio and the party leadership, there are many questions still unanswered, despite the several qualified reports published by the international election observers, based on their assessment of what they saw at the polls in November:

“How else can one explain the shortage of Reconciliation and Results   Forms (RRFs) when the creation of polling stations was exclusively within the domain of NEC, when it knew the total number of polling stations it had created and was also solely responsible for printing the RRFs?

“How can one also explain the presence in the ballot boxes of RRFs that were neither stamped nor signed by presiding officers, nor counter-signed by party agents?

“These – and many other questions – remain unanswered. So systemic were these unlawful activities in many polling stations, especially in the North, Western Area and Kono District, that the conclusion is inescapable that they couldn’t have happened without the complicity of NEC.

president koroma in parlaiment“NEC must therefore bear responsibility for turning an otherwise democratic election into a rogue one. Indeed, one may ask: what future has democracy in a country when the last election was a rogue one and the incumbent ruler its main beneficiary?

“By aiding and abetting the APC to steal the results of the election, NEC must also bear responsibility for eroding the foundations of democracy in Sierra Leone and for the other fault lines as well, not least being the current division of the country along regional and ethnic lines.”

But the most pertinent question is truly for the SLPP itself to answer, before it is too late:

Is the Supreme Court – despite being legally competent, in any position to address those allegations and consequently provide any form of redress for the SLPP?

Bio is convinced that; “Rogue elections, wherever they occur, deserve the most emphatic universal condemnation. This is because invariably they contain the germ from which revolutions spring. For this reason and more, the SLPP and I cannot and will not accept the results of the last presidential elections.”

Of course the SLPP as an opposition party has the right to strongly condemn all forms of electoral malpractice, for which credible evidence is available. But it has to be more strategic and brutally honest about the true cause of their defeat at the polls.

And if the motive for taking the NEC to the Supreme Court is to seek a judicial review, so that changes in the law governing the conduct of elections in Sierra Leone can be made, then such action is laudable.

But if the motive is simply to get a judicial outcome that would enable party leaders to say; “we told you so”, then such waste of effort, time and money must be frowned upon by the rank and file of the party.

“Voters, the victims of NEC cheating, have many options open to them. As a responsible Party, which spent valuable time and resources restoring this country to lasting peace and stability after eleven long years of war, we reject Madam Thorpe’s advice that we go to the Police.

law_court_building“Instead, we have taken our complaint to the Supreme Court, the highest court of the land. The implications of this action must be obvious to all peace-loving citizens of this country” – says Bio.

The party’s central complaint to the Supreme Court, is that large swathes of votes cast for the SLPP across the country, were excluded from the counting process by the NEC.

Bio made this clear in his speech, when he said that; “I empathize especially with those people in the North, Western Area and Kono, who voted solidly for me and the SLPP, but whose votes were wilfully not counted by Madam Christiana Thorpe. She must bear the consequences of whatever action might flow from her wicked decision.”

This is a very serious charge, which anyone who believes in democracy will be appalled to hear.

But the law of evidence is quite strict and the admissibility of that evidence must be beyond doubt, for the Supreme Court to countenance any hearing.

And the question still remains; what is the SLPP hoping to achieve by pursuing this long and costly lawsuit, the result of which, will certainly not revoke president Koroma’s victory?

The 2012 elections may have left Sierra Leone a deeply divided nation along tribal and regional lines, but the effects of poorly implemented policies, misplaced priorities and corruption by government officials are indiscriminate.

The challenge now is for the SLPP leadership to stop dwelling on the past, and establish a strong coalition of opposition that will hold the government to account, demand transparency and probity, for the good of the country.



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