Why do we need two parties? No one party can fool all of the people all of the time

Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 7 March 2024:

The June 23 elections in Sierra Leone was one of the most controversial elections of recent time. As the fall out rumbles on six months after the election, it is refreshing and heartening to see our political teams get back on the pitch.

The formation of the Tripartite Committee is an honest acknowledgment from all sides that the election was fraught with electoral malpractices and shortcomings. We hope that its mandate to review and reform the electoral process, with all its inherent shortcomings will help to avoid a repeat prescription, even though there is an insidious reluctance to take individual responsibility for the whole election shebang.

Sadly, and irrespective of who won and lost the election, not only did it risk undermining our electoral integrity but our democratic credentials as well. No wonder the International Community was understandably livid, considering the amount of effort, time, money, manpower and all the ingredients that went into weaning our country off the vestiges of one of the most barbaric wars and interregna in our history.

The hard-earned peace and stability of our country came tiptoeing on the brink of disintegration, as we dangled on the precipice of the breakdown of law and order. Many fantasised about the outbreak of another civil war, as prophesied by the doom merchants. It is no wonder why America promised to bring to book, all those responsible for risking Sierra Leone’s hard-earned gains at the expense of a five-year bragging rights between our Siamese twins.

Unlike other elections, the role, the use, and misuse of social media became a central piece of the jigsaw of falsehood, disinformation, misinformation, misrepresentation, lies, and rumours etc.  TRUTH became the first CASUALTY on the political stock exchange market.

The followers of both APC and SLPP demagogically emphasised any aspect of events that they desired, thereby glaringly promoting an anticipation of emotionally violent excitement of the ordinary citizens. In their desperate attempts to win the hearts and minds of the electorate, spin doctors and agent provocateurs used AI, CGI, emojis, podcasts, etc to manipulate the mindset as we fell victim to the perils of technological advancement.

With very little attention paid to policies, manifestoes, political party visions etc, it was inevitable that the politics of antagonism became the staple diet. More time was used trying to blow out the candle of the party opposite, hoping that it will make theirs shine brighter. Morheehhhh. It is no wonder that ignition on the last election cycle had a stop-start mechanism fitted to it.

The APC threatened to boycott the elections with a 72-hour ultimatum for the Chairman of the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL) to resign. The ultimatum expired amidst tantalisingly anticipated organised chaos. The International Community frogmarched the APC to the polls, only for the party to boycott parliament after the results or lack of it were announced.

The intervention of the AU, the Commonwealth, the EU, and ECOWAS engendered a diplomatic horse trading and arm twisting that forced both parties to shake hands in a charm offensive of entente cordiale. Both parties shook hands with clenched fists over the Terms of Reference of the Tripartite Committee (TC). We still hope that this committee will provide the road map to address all the controversial matters and put an end to the antagonisms of partisan grievances.

However, we cannot ignore the fact that the controversy surrounding the election results only served to widen the chasm and polarity between the APC and SLPP.  The APC accused the SLPP of fraud, vote rigging and stealing the election, thanks to the ECSL’s recalcitrance to publish the aggregated results. Did the party produce evidence as proof of its allegations?

On the other hand, the ECSL declared President Bio as the winner. Did the ECSL produce the aggregated results as evidence to prove its declaration? So, President Bio was declared winner of the elections……but some are unconvinced that he did not win it beyond reasonable doubt. The APC cried foul……but did it produce the smoking gun?

In an article published in thesierraleonetelegraph.com (28/02/24) titled “APC was right in its political decision not to go to court over 2023 elections outcome”, the writer lectured us that “the APC decision not to go to court following the June 23 elections to seek redress is statute-based”.

According to the writer, “the evidence must be evidence based on the results published which the ECSL is yet to do and the failure of the ECSL to publish its results is a violation to the very Act it helped to create”. The article further states that “without the publication of the Election results by the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL), section 54 subsection (1) is rendered useless because the said challenge has to be based on the published results in accordance with sections 93 paragraph(a) and 53 paragraph (b) of the PEA,2022.

The excerpt above is incontrovertibly true. Simple logic shows us that the APC did not have the evidence to mount a challenge about the results, thanks to the non-publication of the results by ECSL. But that is where the logic ends.

In the absence of the published results, was there any legal impediment to stop the APC from taking the ECSL to court for not publishing the results? At this initial stage and without the published results, the onus was not on the APC to prove that the election or the results were rigged. The onus was on ECSL to prove that the election result was correct, and that President Bio won fair and square.

During the initial discussion of the TC, the APC representative Mr Kaifala Marah said, “we have different laws that will force them to bring the data; we have a mandate and will use it to review the results” Is that not what the party should have done in the first place? If the APC had taken ECSL to court for refusing to publish the results, as “statute based”, would the ECSL have had any legal leg to stand on for its refusal?

It was only after the publication of the results that the APC would have had evidence or not to contest the results in court. This should have been the next stage of the legal gymnastics. By not seeking redress in court, the APC literally gave the ECSL a get -out- of- jail- card.

So, against the backdrop of such controversies, the International Community and especially the USA felt strongly about the risk posed to our nation’s democratic credentials. The MCC award was paused, and the US threatened to hold responsible, all the architects responsible for engendering the impasse.

So, while the APC saw Bio’s triumph as a pyrrhic victory, the SLPP viewed the APC’s objection as one of sour grapes. But in a world where election denying is fast becoming a fashionable artform, was it not ironical that the US was presiding over the election denying in Sierra Leone, when the legitimacy of Biden’s administration is still questioned by a sizeable following in its own back yard, four years down the line? Even after securing the Republican nomination for the November elections this year, Trump is already denying the results even before a single ballot is cast.

We commend our leaders for agreeing to participate in the Tripartite process and hope they remember that negotiation involves compromise.  Compromise involves and requires an understanding of making concessions. When we negotiate, we make compromises by making concessions, to arrive at an accord that is amiable to all parties.

It is important for our leaders to remember that no one will get everything they want in a negotiation. Is it time to move from the sphere of confrontation and on to one of negotiation? The American Embassy tweeted “congratulations to all Sierra Leoneans on the signing of the agreement for National Cohesion” and called the event “a victory for all who place national interest above partisan gains…”.

Our leaders must remember that this is about Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans. We voted for them to represent us and not themselves: Country First. Their loyalty should be to our country always, and to their party only when it deserves it. Even in the face of impossible odds, those who love our country can change it, and it does not require faith in the divine or extra infusion of intramuscular patriotism.

The APC can wallow in the inherent sympathy as the party of the vanquished and aggrieved for all it likes, but could and should it convert those sympathies into ballot papers for 2028? The country needs a viable and constructive opposition, not one that that continues to cling on to the faintest thread of hopes for a rerun.

Floating the idea of a rerun to its supporters would do nothing more than massage their disappointment. No one including President Bio, The US, AU, EU, or Lord Haw Haw has the authority to call for a rerun. Only the courts of the land, which the APC chose to ignore in preference to “Gbagbati politics”. One cannot preach the law and ignore it, just like eating your cake and having it back.

What and where next for the APC?

The APC needs to look itself in the mirror and undertake a robust reflection of itself. We all learn from experience, but we learn better from reflecting on such experiences. The more reflective you are, the more effective you become.

With the June 23 elections finding an unenviable niche in the annals of our history, is it time for the APC to start preparing for the next round of political gymnastics in 2028? Before that, the party needs to conduct a political autopsy on the last election, by employing the 5 “Ws” and 1 “H” in the process: Why, when, where, what, who and how?

The economic situation on the eve of the election was not Bio-friendly. The cost of living continues to be a threat to air traffic. At face value, the APC did not need to campaign much. All the party needed was to tell Sierra Leoneans how it would change the landscape if it was elected. Did they offer alternatives during the campaign?

Did the APC tell the electorates how it was going to arrest the decline of our economic situation if elected to power? Did they produce a more business friendly blueprint of how they will resuscitate our ailing economy? Don’t answer that. Instead, it focussed on measuring the drapes and allowed its name and image to be dragged into the mud of civil disobedience and violent protests.

Against the backdrop of hard times, and even when the SLPP was predicting a landslide victory for President Bio, many APC supporters still wonder how the party snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory.

The APC trinity

The APC party was founded in 1960 by a breakaway group from the SLPP because of the row about elections before independence (APC), and independence before elections (SLPP). The formation of the National Reformation Movement (NRM), on the eve of the election was not only a reminder of how history could repeat itself but also of how political parties can be susceptible to binary fusion.

The timing could not have been worse for the APC. While the party was distractingly dragged to the courts by NRM, it morphed into factions that were fondly referred to as Team A and Team B. This did not only validate a frictional  faction but also created a sense of a disunited party. A house divided against itself cannot stand. It gave the impression that the party was a trinity that included the father, the son and the holy……

The APC’s decision to join the Consortium of Progressive Political parties (COPP) was another ill-advised wet dream. It’s understandable that this was done for political expediency but sometimes, it is better to have a known enemy than a forced ally. Joining the COPP just raised the white flag that the “once mighty APC” was no longer a formidable opposition equipped enough to challenge the SLPP.

We all know the impact of the diaspora communities on our political landscape and especially their respective parties. Notwithstanding the fund raising and donations they can garner, it felt like the APC diaspora had a kind of unlimited leverage in the last election cycle. It seemed to take over the narrative of the election, believing that social media alone was enough to do the trick. Wrong. Most of the avid voters suffer from social media phobia. Megabytes can be expensive.

The APC’s participation in the TC must go hand in hand with its own internal autopsy. This would allow it to reflect and learn from experience as they go along. It could relearn how to cultivate moral law and adhere to method and discipline. It needs to get it’s house in order rather spend time putting blood on water and crying over spilt milk before the next election. Five years might sound like a long time in politics but hey. The idea of a rerun is politically blasphemous.

There are some conspiracy theorists who believe that our politics is run on a merry go-round of alternate two term limits between our two grand old parties. If the baton changing sequence since the end of the war is anything to go by, you’ll be hard pressed to dismiss such a conspiracy. Equally, if the theory has any credence, does it mean that my cousins are poised for “back to power” come 2028? Feel free to hedge your bets.

If the rumour that the APC as a party was “hard up” during the last election, is it high time it started a robust cash generation system to prevent the opposition making a mincemeat out it in the next election?

But again, there is the small matter of who will lead the party in 2028. The party’s constitution has been quoted in some quarters to suggest Samura Kamara’s ineligibility: two strikes and you’re out. You would hope that the party would consider the twin factors of winnability and likability when they choose who will lead them from exile to the promised land.

Sometimes, I wonder what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through parliament. In the interest of democracy, the APC cannot allow itself to mutate into an opposition party that is floating on the wings of sympathy and as a symbol of the disgruntled and aggrieved.

The party needs the conscience of a patriot, that is loaded with honesty, deep reflections, and a significant crush on reality, to perform a triple bypass surgery and political autopsy all rolled into one. It needs to go back to the drawing board and with the help of VAR if needed. If the APC wants to get back to power, riding on the social and economic malaise of the country alone is not enough. The party needs to come up with a blueprint on how it will provide a better alternative. In case you forget, EBK inherited a relatively stable economy from late Pa Kabba.

Bio inherited an economy that was mired in austerity. It is time to move from the politics of diagnosis and onto one of prognosis. Winning gives you happiness but losing gives you wisdom. Your torch does not become brighter by dimming the other person’s.

Don’t forget to turn the lights off when you leave the room.

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