There have been frenetic talks around about President Ernest Bai Koroma’s eligibility and willingness or otherwise to run for a second term as head of state come 2012. Without taking a step further, he is willing to run for a second term as president and has said so and implied so. Once, I am told on the APC Radio, once in an interview with me.
The latest talks, which appear to me like trying to fly a leaking hot air balloon through a violent storm, come amid talk that the All People’s Congress Party will not choose him because he would have completed his second and final term as party leader. According to the chinwag, that is what the party’s constitution says.
All of this is a bit too premature in that it takes the mind of the president and others in governance from state matters to the issue of political survival; just a year into a five-year term. Such a development is such that it will stall the progress of the country just as the dying years of the Tejan Kabbah administration paid more attention to the issue of succession than to the success of the state.
That said it is not new that such rumours and threats against a first term president are doing the rounds. Like President Koroma, President Kabbah appointed to his cabinet mostly people apparently imposed on him by his party when he was first elected in 1996. Even that did not appease the hardliners within his Sierra Leone People’s Party. It took the military coup of 1997 and his second mandate in 2002 to harden his resolve, leading him to say publicly that he was president of Sierra Leone and not just of the SLPP. That singular pronouncement by President Kabbah made his popularity rating within his party take a nosedive and he probably never recovered from it. And this probably explains why President Koroma has been reticent about certain things his party members or supporters have been doing.
I vividly remember talking to an SLPP strongman shortly before the 6 January 1999 invasion of Freetown who went to the extent of even mooting the possibility of impeaching President Kabbah beginning with the party disowning him. That could not work then just as it cannot work today. Whereas Section 77/K of the 1991 constitution makes clear the provision for the forfeiture of a parliamentary seat if an MP ceases to be a member of the political party under which they were elected, there is no such provision for the loss of office in the case of the president. In other words, even if Tejan Kabbah was expelled from the SLPP then, whereas he would have lost his post as party leader, he would still have remained head of state.
Relate that to today and the plot that is said to be being talked about, rightly or wrongly, that certain elements within the APC who feel the reform tendencies of the president are too much of a bane on them are planning to frustrate him and his allies. If these hardliners had their way, they would see the back of the president, so think and say some people.
The thinking goes that they will lead a move to stop him from becoming the leader and presidential candidate of the party ahead of the 2012 elections. They will start the rebellion from within the lawn of parliament, something that has a slim chance of succeeding. And here is why.
There are a whole lot of Koroma loyalists on the red side of the House. The president can count on a virtual control of MPs from Bombali and Tonkolili districts. Port Loko, party sources have told me, will be relatively difficult because of the issue of the erstwhile Transport Minister Kemoh Sesay. However, with the support of his Internal Affairs minister, Sulaiman Mbaba Kamara he will do well among Kambia district MPs. His fate in Koinadugu is not immediately clear to me as I have spoken with party big Vons from that part of the country. As for those from the Western Area, I am informed that he has a huge alliance with them. So that strategy in my view is discounted. Or maybe not!
An APC MP drew my attention recently to recent developments in South Africa implying possible ripples here. Like the anti-Kabbah strongman I challenged almost ten years ago, I told this MP that the South African Lesson cannot work here because the APC’s constitution does not allow for a recall of its leader as the ANC party does. And the latter party is far better organised, far more popular and much stronger. He giggled in apparent disagreement with me.
Another possible strategy being mooted is that these elements want to go to a party convention and challenge Koroma’s leadership of the party at its highest decision body. Their argument being that he has exhausted his two terms as party leader. I am not sure which constitution is being talked about here since there had been a long-drawn-out challenge over which constitution is legal. But Article 10/1/1 of the APC constitution which is posted on its official website <apcpartysl.org>, states thus: “All National and Regional Officers of the Party shall hold office for a period of three years unless re-elected by the appropriate Party”. I don’t remember seeing any limit to tenure.
The confusion probably emanates from the thinking that “re-election” means twice only. And may be this is where the ANC constitution and the APC one are in agreement. Hence, even when President Thabo Mbeki was serving out his final term as head of state – which of course was cut short – he was still interested in becoming party leader for the third term.
Therefore, the talk that the party’s constitution would need to be changed for President Koroma to lead it again and consequently contest for president in 2012 does not arise. Except, I repeat, if there is another constitution different to the one posted on the party’s website.
But hypothetically speaking, let us say the hardliners do get their wish – the back of Koroma and his allies – they are even far less guaranteed of victory in four years. It has been exhaustively dealt with that many people who ordinarily would not have voted for the APC did so last year because of the likeability and relative character cleanliness of Ernest Bai Koroma. I dare say that largely remains true today. If anything he needs to work harder to claw back some of those voters who may have changed their mind because of the behaviour of some APC hardliners and their supporters who seem to be frustrating the president’s reform efforts especially in the fight against corruption. Look at the hassle that preceded the passing of the ACC bill into law. Look at the way the case of the ACC report on the energy sector is being scorned by certain elements and even politicised.
That said, these hardliners are considering the Charles Margai option – or maybe as is happening in South Africa today. To break away from the party. Sources say the resuscitation of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP-Sorbeh) which died with its leader Thaimu Bangura – probably the most grassroots of all politicians in my generation – is another option. The thinking is that after the APC, the only political party that resonates easily with northerners (base of the APC) is PDP – Sorbeh.
That will easily split the northern vote, if it succeeds. And whereas some PMDC people preached to south-easterners that the SLPP had appointed seven ministers from the north to be able to sink in their message, the same cannot be sold to northerners who know that they are in charge, and really in charge of state governance. And if President Koroma retains his current vice president, which the APC hardliners do not want to hear let alone happen, the Kono votes may offset any northern votes that fly away from him. But that will depend a lot on how the current administration delivers on the needs of Kono and its people.
The Kono vote will be particularly interesting because with the huge loss suffered in the local council elections this year by the PMDC even in some of those constituencies it had won in the general elections last year, the SLPP is expected to do much better in its southern base come 2012. The thinking being that many of their traditional voters will return home. So there is everything to play for. Probably even for the President Koroma to appease the APC hardliners to keep his votes in tact at the very least. By Umaru Fofana