Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 February 2016
Four years ago, Sierra Leone’s ruling APC concocted a new elections strategy they say was their winning formula for the 2012 elections. It was called ‘four-for-four’.
In Sierra Leone there are four levels of elections, hence the aptly named ‘four-for-four’ campaign slogan was adopted by the APC, to ensure that each of those levels was won – the local elections, mayoral elections, constituency elections, and presidential election.
And so, ‘four-for-four’ it was in 2012, when the ruling APC was declared the winner amidst cry of foul play and electoral irregularities by the opposition SLPP.
But will it be another ‘four-for-four’ in 2018, or is the party masterminding a clever plan to achieve its ‘more time’ agenda for the president?
Few in Sierra Leone will ever doubt the political ruthlessness – though some would say shrewdness, of the ruling APC, in planning and preparing for elections across all four electoral levels.
Starting with their choice of presidential candidate, right down to the granting of party symbol to prospective candidates for the other three tiers of voting, the process is tightly controlled by a few senior party grandees including the president, who is also the chairman of the party.
Although there may be acrimony and sometimes mutiny in the camp, one thing that sets the ruling APC party apart from the other political parties in the country, is their ruthless obsession with benevolent dictatorship – powers from above – nothing or nobody moves without the Pa.
But such is the culture of the ruling APC, since it was founded in 1960; its structure and constitution very much centred on a strong and top-down chain of command.
Once a decision has been made by the inner circle of the party as to who shall be the presidential candidate and running mate for an election, the casting of votes at the party’s convention to endorse this decision is purely academic.
The party simply has a way of galvanising the support of its members to focus on the ultimate prize – State House, rather than pursuing endless internal bickering and spending too much time nursing the wounds of those injured during its leadership battle.
This level of discipline and control cannot be said of other political parties, whose laisser -faire and more democratic culture, encourages endless and acrimonious in-fighting before and after presidential candidacy elections, to the ultimate destruction of their party’s chances at general elections
With the ruling APC, once the candidacy decision has been made at the party’s convention, the centre of gravity shifts very quickly towards that consensus, and all eyes are now on the presidential candidate for direction and vision.
This ability of the ruling APC to galvanise and consolidate support for the elected presidential, local and constituency election candidates is an attribute which, other political parties may need to emulate very quickly, if they are to succeed in taking power from APC in 2018.
At every constituency, local and district level, the ruling APC political party machinery functions with military precision, mimicking the Chinese Communist Party, with reverence and respect for their chosen candidates.
Party discipline and respect for the decisions of APC central office is a strength that no other political party is yet able to command, and it works – it achieve results and pays political dividends at the polls.
Take what has been described as the unilateral decision by president Koroma to sack the country’s vice president – Sam Sumana, who in 2007 contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars into the party’s election campaign fund.
Ruthless as that decision may have been, and setting aside the constitutional argument as to whether president Koroma was right or wrong, he made the decision in the face of tremendous public and opposition outcry, yet got away scot-free, with the endorsement of the Supreme Court.
The process of sacking Sam Sumana was a master class in political bullying, through the use of party structures and administrative rules.
Sam Sumana had no legs to stand on, without a power base within the party’s chain of command, be it at district, constituency or local level, let alone party office.
Power is vested in the chairman of the ruling APC, who also happens to be the president. He calls the shots and everyone in the party respects his decisions. This is what party discipline is all about.
Since winning the 2012 elections, a quiet storm has been in the making around the contentious issue of who should succeed president Koroma, as presidential candidate for the elections in 2017/18.
This storm is yet to gather pace, and so far remains weak, until the ruling party announces a date for its convention – possibly later this year or early 2017, to elect its presidential flagbearer, when the battle for leadership of the party will officially commence.
Until then president Koroma and his inner circle of men in red suits, are keeping the lid tightly closed on any public expression of interest in the presidency by potential candidates.
Such is the level of control in the party, through benevolent dictatorship, and it works. It helps in avoiding the pressure cooker effect, which could blow up the party into fragments.
But beneath that simmering volcano, plans are already afoot for the 2018 elections, and these plans do not make for pleasant reading – if you are a democrat.
State House sources informed the Sierra Leone Telegraph this week about a recent meeting of senior APC party grandees, where it was agreed that the campaign calling for the extension of the presidential term of office from two to three years, should be modified.
Having lost the argument for an extension of term limit for president Koroma, new plans are being drawn up to phase the elections that are due in 2018 over a longer period that will inevitably see the president remain in office until the end of 2020.
This is what the State House insider told the Sierra Leone Telegraph: “In February 2018 local elections will be held. In November 2018 general elections will be conducted. And in November 2019, presidential election will take place.”
If this plan, which sources say has been endorsed by the country’s chief electoral commissioner and the Director of Statistics Sierra Leone goes ahead, then president Koroma will not be handing power over to his successor until May 2020.
So while it seems that the ruling APC has lost the third term presidency debate, the campaign for more time for the president is still alive and kicking.
In fact, it appears to have now metamorphosed into a clever, though devious election timetable, which only the ruling APC can mastermind – the new ‘four-for-four’.