President Koroma’s cash for vote strategy could lead to a one party state in Sierra Leone

Abdul R Thomas

28 March 2012

John Ernest Leigh the former presidential aspirant of Sierra Leone’s main opposition party – the SLPP, has officially registered his membership of the ruling APC party – a party he is on record to have lambasted throughout his political career, as corrupt and inept. But as the saying goes: ‘politics makes for strange bedfellows’.

Commenting on this latest and serious political development, a prominent analyst said: “I am afraid if this trend of politicians cross-carpeting continues, we would certainly be at the start of a new cycle of one party politics, triggering a reign of corruption, followed by a reactionary rebellion and military interventionism. I hope I am wrong”

When I last spoke to John Leigh – the defeated presidential candidate for the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), just a few months after he had resigned from the party in disgust, it was obvious his mind was already made up – he was going to join the ruling APC party.

His decision to resign from the SLPP came after many months of media speculation about his future, once he had lost the leadership election to the former military leader and president – Julius Maada Bio.

John Leigh’s letter of resignation from the SLPP pulled no punches. He accused the executive of the party of being undemocratic, and the rank and file members – of tribalism.

But many independent observers were quite surprised at John Leigh’s decision to resign from the SLPP last year – a party, which according to him; he had helped to resuscitate, after more than a decade in political wilderness.

He is on record, along with the other contestants for the SLPP presidential candidacy elections to have formally agreed on the need for party loyalty, unity and collective responsibility, irrespective of the outcome of the party leadership election.

Known for his tough talking – ‘no nonsense’ principles, it came as a shock for members of the party as well as observers, when John Leigh decided to not only turn his venom at the very party he was so proud to build; but shut the door, turned his back, and walked away uncompromisingly.

For John Leigh, losing the SLPP presidential candidacy was like a bride jilted by his suitor – ‘a lover scorned’. But did John over-rate his chances yet again, of winning the SLPP candidacy elections, after losing a similar presidential bid in 2005?    

John Leigh saw his personal investment in reviving the SLPP as a ‘non-contractual financial transaction’ – running into tens of thousands of dollars, for which he expected the party members to be grateful and mindful of – in their choice of presidential candidate for the country’s forthcoming general election.

He also believed himself to be the ‘best pedigree’ for the leadership of the party, after serving as Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the US, and his relentless effort in winning the support of the international community against Foday Sankoh’s Rebel war in Sierra Leone.

If those were John Leigh’s main strengths and unique selling proposition for the SLPP presidential candidacy, the rank and file of the party were not impressed, as they overwhelmingly voted against his candidacy. He polled no more than two votes.

Speaking at the APC welcoming ceremony in Freetown, on the 26 March 2012, John Leigh is reported to have said that: “President Koroma is the fittest candidate for the 2012 elections…….I am ready to vote for him in the November 17 elections. I am willing and able to work tirelessly, fearlessly and creatively to ensure the APC wins the forthcoming elections.”

Reactions to his decision to join the ruling APC party have been swift. Many see this as a betrayal of all the principles and values that he once stood for.

A prominent political commentator said: “If this is true, then John Leigh has let some of us down. I am not talking about supporters of the SLPP, but some of us non-partisans who hold him in very high esteem, and are yearning for principled politicians to hold sway in the political landscape of Sierra Leone. What a betrayal? What a cowardly way to sacrifice principles on the altar of expediency?”

But staunch ruling APC party supporters – rubbing their hands with glee, argue that it is John Leigh’s civil liberty to join any political party of his choice.

One such ruling party supporter reminded, that: “Other SLPP  heavyweights who have abandoned the party to join the APC are:  the experienced and highly influential politician – Mr. J.B. Dauda , who is now Foreign Minister;  the young political maverick – Mr. Steven Gaojia;  grassroots campaigner and former party Chairman of the Western Area – Mr. Lansana Fadika ; former presidential candidate – Professor Ritchard M’Bayo ; one of the kingpins of the party’s diaspora branch – Dr. John Sandy; and the backbone of the SLPP party in Kailahun District – Retired Lt. Col. Tom Nyuma.

He also said that; “If after John Leigh’s defection to the APC, the SLPP  still remains neck-deep in denial that something is not right with the party, it would be very obvious to all and sundry that the party is really not serious. For all these high profile personalities to keep abandoning a political party, there is no doubt that  something has gone wrong and the big tsunami  that many people predicted when the SLPP  chose Maada Bio as presidential candidate has just about started.”

But how damaging is this culture of party political defection to Sierra Leone’s democracy?  

What is strikingly obvious is that, the flaky and ephemeral political values and principles of those entering politics today in Sierra Leone, must give cause for concern. Sierra Leone’s democratic foundation is very weak and has been so since independence. And the current wave of defections and cross-carpeting will further erode that foundation.

That the Rebel leader – Foday Sankoh, was able to easily garner the support of young men and women to join his crusade in an orgy of bloodletting, was indicative of the fragility of the country’s democratic foundation – back then.

But how much has changed?

With the current wave of political defections and turncoat politicians jumping ship – looking for personal gain, rather than stand by their party’s values and principles, and promote change from within, not much better should be expected of the poorly educated and vulnerable youths – who make up 70% of the voting population.

Sierra Leoneans know too well, that the dearth of principled politics and politicians does not bode well for the country’s nascent democracy.

The sad truth is that, Sierra Leone’s politics stinks, and the country will continue to be led and governed – not by those with well formed political ideology and are prepared to defend their party’s policy ideas and values – aimed at developing the country, but by rogue politicians – in search of greener pastures and the honey pot.

What is easily forgotten is that in a democracy such as ours, the role of the opposition is perhaps more important than the functions of those in power; for without a strong, principled and dedicated opposition – democracy dies.

And when democracy dies, only those with money (or the power of the barrel) can be guaranteed justice – be it legal, social or economic. 

Sierra Leone now more so than ever, needs principled opposition politicians who can honestly and constructively hold the government to account for its actions and omissions.

Money, or the promise of lucrative government jobs, must not detract or dissuade the opposition politicians from carrying out this sacred national duty. But with a ruling party awash with cash, it seems many opposition politicians are finding it hard to resist the temptation. That is the problem facing the country today.

Has John Leigh become a part of the problem, rather than a part of the solution?    


1 Comment

  1. The headline of your article and the argument contain in the body of text is a classic case of bait and switch. Nowhere in the article do you cartegorically link the President with cash for vote, which I may say is a very serious allegation to makle against any elected official.

    The cross carpeting of SLPP heavy weights was a catalyst in the ushering of one party rule during the reign of President Stevens. Whilst I share your concern of how this will effect our democracy, I don’t blame the APC or in some ways even those that are leaving the opposition.

    Why do you assume that those that are leaving are not doing so out of love of the country? Is greed the only motivation factor? If you accept that ex-ambassador Leigh spent his resources in propping up the SLPP, is the argument of greed not a redundant one? I have a more fundamental issue about our multi-party democracy though.

    I have a more worrying concern for democracy in Sierra Leone and the sub-region. Multi-party democracy thrives when it is based on principles and ideology. In the UK we talk about Labour and Conservatives as the main parties whilst in the US it is the Democrats and Republicans.

    These polical parties have totally different ideologies, their world outlook, the body politics, etc. are totally different in nearly all policy aspects. Unfortunately, in Sierra Leone our democracy is not based on such ideologies.

    This is why tribalism and regionalism are very important to the political parties and the body politics. Until our political parties are mature enough to be based on ideological thoughts and differences, politicians will always cross over to the other parties as there is no ideological base to which he has been tethered. As much as we blame the politicians, the voters too will hs responsibilities.

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