Sierra Leone Telegraph: 6 January 2016:
Sections of supporters of the ruling APC party of Sierra Leone, are publicly calling for president Koroma to be given more time to continue in power, after his fixed two terms mandated by the constitution shall have ended next year.
They say that the call for more time is not the same as a demand for a third term. But critics of the government and those opposed to the idea of a president overstaying his time in office, say they are both one and the same.
So why the call for more time for the president?
The main argument put forward by ruling party supporters is that the Ebola virus has not only decimated the country’s economy and destroyed lives, but robbed the president of his precious time in office.
The Ebola crisis started in March 2014 and ended in November 2015. Proponents of the more time agenda say that during this period, president Koroma was unable to discharge his duties as president, and that his government’s development plans have been put on hold.
Ask them whether the president’s salary had been frozen during this period, and you see a lot of stargazers looking up to the skies for an answer in silence.
So, if the president knew that during those troubled times, he did nothing but sat on his hands, and furthermore, being the honest Christian that he is – did not accept his monthly salary for over a year, then perhaps many in Sierra Leone may have been sympathetic to his call for more time.
But it is a known fact that in the last twelve months president Koroma has been absorbed by the Ebola crisis, once he had accepted the fact that Ebola posed a real and deadly danger to the nation.
And as the president travelled the length and breadth of the country, talking to communities about the government’s Ebola management programme and raising much needed funds, no one argued that he was not discharging his presidential duties.
The truth is that president Koroma is now taking full credit for a job well done in defeating the Ebola virus. So how can he argue that Ebola has robbed him of his precious time to discharge his duty as a leader?
Is it not the job of a leader to respond to emergencies and national disasters, without asking for more time or overtime pay, once their contract ends?
And why is it that parliamentarians belonging to the ruling APC party, senior party grandees and cabinet ministers are not publicly demanding more time or third term for president Koroma?
The answer is simple. The Sierra Leone Telegraph has learnt that over 30% of APC parliamentarians who make up the majority in the country’s parliament, are either against or not quite convinced about the need for more time for the president.
Many senior APC party executives that are opposed to the more time and third term agenda believe that politics and democracy is about achieving continuity and progress, without relying on one dominant figure.
There are several contenders for the APC leadership, including the president’s cousin John Sisay, the current head of the Anti-Corruption Commission – Joseph Kamara, finance minister Marah, foreign minister Samura, and the information minister Kanu (Photo: Koroma and Kanu).
None of these potential candidates for the presidency in 2017 would like to be denied the chance to lead Sierra Leone. With the exception of Kanu, they are all much younger than president Koroma. They are believed to be against the more time and third term agenda.
Senior APC executives are confident in the belief that everyone of the candidates listed above, is more than capable of continuing the work of president Koroma when his term ends in 2017.
“I am a ruling APC party supporter, but I do not agree with the proposal for the president to continue in office for a further term to complete his developmental programme. No, no, no, this is not what democracy is all about,” says one ruling party supporter.
Opposition supporters are also calling on president Koroma to rethink his or the APC party’s idea of more time or third term in office, as this can only bring chaos to the country.
The irony is that president Koroma has said publicly that he is not interested in a third term or an extension of his stay in office.
Analysts say that should an APC member of parliament table a motion calling for an extension of the president’s term of office, and this motion is passed by a majority, the president will not refuse the offer.
But such a motion in parliament will be unconstitutional, and therefore deemed to be ultra-vires, if it is voted upon and passed.
The main principle upon which democracy rests in Sierra Leone is that, when the elected government’s fixed term is up, they must call an election.
And should the people believe that the president’s performance has been brilliant and gives hope for the future, they will re-elect his party back into office, but led by a fresh pair of hands.
What president Koroma and his ruling party cannot do is to change the rules of the political game, whilst the game is still on. This is wrong.
Later this year, a national referendum could be held in Sierra Leone to vote on a revised constitution. And one of the proposed changes citizens will be asked to vote on, may read as follows: “Would you like to see the presidential term of office changed from two to three terms?”
Not even a majority vote for this motion can save the president’s third term ambition. He was elected on the basis of the current constitution, which does not provide for an extension of his term in office.
Incidentally, Helen Sirleaf in neighbouring Liberia is calling for the term of office of the presidency in her country to be reduced from two terms of six years each to two terms of four years each.
Liberia will have a new constitution that will most likely reflect these changes, in time for the next elections in 2017.
Sierra Leone too will have a new constitution before the end of 2016, but it is highly unlikely the presidential term of office will be cut from two terms of five years each, to two terms of four years each.
Will the parliament of Sierra Leone vote to give more time to president Koroma?