Days before the July 5 local Government Elections, National Electoral Commission Chairperson Dr. Christiana Thorpe announced that 39 council seats had been won unopposed by the APC. 25 of these seats had only nominations submitted by the APC whilst 14 were the result of withdrawal from the contest by independent candidates.
There have been numerous reactions to this news. One reaction that stands out is that it is a throwback the country’s one party past when scores of candidates were forcibly prevented from the nominating booths. I pray Sierra Leone does not return to those days. But I am also worried by attempts at hacking back to the past without a sense of how things have changed. The practice that we all loathe was aided by a law passed by the Albert Margai Regime that invalidated nominations where the nominated person was not present at the nominating booth at a specified day. Politicians would later forcibly bar opponents from entering nominating booths to prevent these opponents from being nominated. And without opponents being nominated, the seat would be declared unopposed. Two things were obvious here: a bad law passed by an SLPP regime being utilized by bad politicians in the 1970s and 80s.
But the electoral law is not as it was then. Nominations now take place over a period of time; and I have not heard of any candidate forcibly prevented from presenting his/her nominating papers. This is definitely a move away from a specified bad law and a specified ugly practice from Sierra Leone’s political history.
And this is exactly why we may need to enrich our discussions about the unopposed candidates with insights other than the ‘return to the old bad days of one party politics.’ One worrying trend that I am seeing is a folding up of efforts by a great political party from major geo-political areas in the country. It is not only a question of the APC going unopposed in the wards; it is also a question of the SLPP not nominating candidates in those wards. And that the oldest surviving political party with founding roots in the North and West of the country did not field in candidates in the unopposed wards is seriously undermining its national character. Elections are as much about presence and spread as it is about winning. During the last Presidential elections, I strongly believe the NDA presidential candidate knew he was going to win the elections; but I surely believe his candidacy made a strong statement to all those stupid people who still believe fullahs, who anyone with a sense of history knows are amongst the oldest of communities in Freetown and most part of the country are not Sierra Leoneans.
The other day I had a talk with an independent mayoral candidate for Freetown. He told me his motive for being in the race was beyond winning or losing. It was more about asserting a claim. ‘People would know that I, we, are around, and that we are in it.’ It was Joseph Hills who sang ‘we dae ya still.’ That was an annunciation of presence, of stamina, of resolution. It was as if he was saying ‘things are difficult, but hey we are still here, determined to carry on.’ By not fielding candidates in those unopposed wards, the SLPP and PMDC, but more particularly the One People One Country SLPP, are showing symptoms of a lack of countrywide reach, a negation of national presence, a decay of stamina, and a betrayal of those of toiled for it in those areas.
Truth be told, the APC is a cleverer political party. It knows it needs the south and east to be top of the political class, so it has a strategy for those areas. The SLPP has no northern strategy, to them, despite the over 90,000 that voted for them in the 2007 elections, is a write off. So the party is increasingly becoming one cornered to the South and East. Truth be told, being, or aspiring to be perceived as a national party demands much more than motivations that come from the frustrations of the book-people from a particular geo-political region.
Once I was reading an article about republican campaign tactics in the US. They tell people we are party of family values and sound Christian ethics. When they win elections what gets done are decreases in capital gains taxes and other policies that favour the very rich. In Sierra Leone, hundreds of thousands in the South and East are led to believe that the SLPP is their primordial party; and that it will ensure their development. But what gets developed after elections are won are estates at IMMAT. The ordinary person from the regions of their votes continues to wallow in poverty. All the recent hue and cry from the SLPP are not about services to the ordinary people
Of the regions where they got most votes, rather it is about elite jobs and the pecks and immunities that go with them. This country needs service delivery for the ordinary person and not elite pecks.
The other day I was having a conversation with a friend. He supports the SLPP, and he is a very good man. But his disdain for the ordinary Sierra Leonean, especially youths, traders and the illiterate in English was astounding. He called the country a mess and blamed it on the APC reliance on the afore-mentioned people. This good man hated Universal adult suffrage; for it gives equal voting weight to illiterates and intellectual supermodels
There is what some book people call cognitive dissonance – the inability of the brain to fully register what the eyes see and the ears hear. It is usually borne out of acute denial of reality. Like the SLPP loss of political power during the 2007 elections. Many people in the party blame it on a regime change agenda by the international community. Is that all that you see about the elections? And now another fixation is emerging – that the APC are a violent people. I have watched, listened to and read with dismay the SLPP dismissal of the APC rally multitudes as violent, illiterate munkus who do not know what is good for them. What! All that crowd! All those hundreds of thousands! Is that the way to court votes?
Those ordinary people dismissed as munkus are owners of great insights into the politics of this country. Just listen keenly to them and you would know they are masters and madams of the creative slang that summarize socio-political and economic trends in the country. For many of these the reason why the SLPP lost the presidential elections was that they practised ‘air-condition’ and ‘jeep politics’ whilst the APC won because they knew ‘junction ‘and ‘Abu Black’ politics
And now back to the unopposed saga in the local government elections. The SLPP recoiled unto the South and East, giving up on the West and North of the country, and in the process haemorrhaging its claim of one country one people. The APC moved South and East, broadening its base of support, and making a stronger argument, as at this time of our electoral history, for being a better national party.
Mohamed Gibril Sesay