Sierra Leone Telegraph: 3 January 2018:
After months of dithering and shuffling of chairs on the decks, the opposition SLPP will tomorrow Thursday, 4th January 2018, announce the name of the party’s presidential running mate to accompany Julius Maada Bio to the March 7, 2018 elections.
Rumours are rife as to who will get the number two baton. But one thing is certain, the decision will be solely Maada Bio’s and no one else.
Although this is contrary to the spirit of the party’s Constitution which calls for democratic decision making in all such matters of strategic importance, the members of the national executive council decided yesterday to delegate responsibility for appointing his running mate to Maada Bio.
Top of Maada’s list of potential appointees are: Alie Kabba, Alpha Timbo, and Alpha Wurie. These three names are significantly important for the SLPP, if they are to make any inroads into winning votes in the north of the country.
The other two most likely candidates for the number two job – John Oponjo Benjamin and Dr Abass Bundu, have both ruled themselves out from the race, though supporting the party’s election campaign. (Photo: Bio and Alie Kabba).
SLPP needs to win at least 20% of votes in the north of the country, assuming it can maintain its 2012 majority of over 60% won in its political heartland – the southern half of the country.
But there are major challenges for SLPP in the capital Freetown and in the eastern district of Kono, where, since losing the 2007 elections it has struggled to make any impact – either at by-elections or general and local elections. SLPP currently has no single MP in those districts.
Both Freetown and Kono will be the most unpredictable and complex constituencies at the 2018 elections, with the highest percentage of swing voters in the country.
The ruling APC and the newly formed Coalition 4 Change party – led by the former vice president who was sacked by president Koroma in 2015 – Sam Sumana, are likely to take up most of the seats in Kono, with the SLPP trailing by a long margin.
Invariably, people in Sierra Leone vote on tribal lines, and the opposition SLPP has a serious image problem which has dogged the party’s chances of winning massive votes, especially in the north of the country.
Far too many of Sierra Leone’s voters perceive the SLPP as a party for the Mendes, despite a handful of northerners serving on the party’s national executive.
It is this image of tribalism that the SLPP must change in the next two months, if they are to mount a significant challenge to the incumbent APC and the newly formed National Grand Coalition (NGC) led by Dr. Kandeh Yumkella.
Hundreds of SLPP party supporters and regional officials have left the party to join the NGC, including some of their senior party grandees – including Yasmine Jusu Sheriff, Isata Jabbie kabbah, Andrew Keili, and many others.
So, the choice of running mate by Maada Bio tomorrow, will determine the tribal or regional complexion of the SLPP’s presidential campaign ticket. It will also indeed determine how seriously the SLPP’s motto of “One Country – One People” should be taken by the electorate.
Amid calls for SLPP to shake off its perceived violent ‘Paopa’ image and male dominated leadership, there are speculations Bio might appoint a woman as his running mate.
Over 60% of the voting population in Sierra Leone are Women, and are believed to be holding the winning card at next year’s elections.
But the SLPP party is short of any experienced, high-profile national female figure they can count on. They have all deserted the party.
Who Bio appoints as his presidential running mate tomorrow is anyone’s guess.
But certainly, SLPP will need to do more than bridging the regional and gender gap in its leadership by appointing a northerner with a national appeal, as Maada Bio’s running mate.
Many in Sierra Leone say that Bio himself as an ex-military junta leader is tainted, and will struggle to win the confidence of the majority of voters on March 7, 2018.
Will his running mate help make a difference to the electoral fortunes of the party? Only time will tell.