Jeredine Sarho-Williams missed out on being the first female presidential candidate in Sierra Leone when a few weeks, or less, before the elections in February 1996 she merged with Alpha Yahyah Sillah’s party. It was too late to not have her name on the ballot paper, since the then Independent National Electoral Commission could not afford to have them reprinted just for that reason. Very expensive and probably not worth it!
This made Mrs Sarho-Williams’s preferred candidate do worse because the move left the two parties’ supporters largely uneducated confused, not knowing what to do. In the end, even though she was officially not a presidential candidate, she polled some votes.
As July 5 beckons, one reckons the local council elections which should be a friendly affair are getting over the top with clouds gathering. Reported harassments of especially independent female candidates who were mostly APC supporters have been the order of the day. Violence in its real sense has until recently been almost non-existent. But the clashes over the weekend in the diamond-rich district, has left a bitter taste in a mouth that was expecting syrup. A verdict on those clashes is still awaited, but the police I dare say, are morally bankrupt to give that. Not for the first time, they have sounded as compromised on the issue as they proved ineffective in dealing with it.
The governing APC party have denied knowledge of harassing and intimidating independent candidates and they have, in an interview with me, even condemned the whole anti-democratic behaviour. However, the allegations against the party are string and persisted.
More incomprehensible is the case of Rugiatu Turay. The gender activist, an APC female candidate, alleges that she has suffered harassment and intimidation at the hands of her own party’s members and supporters, and some other senior party officials. Her home has even been attacked at least once.
Despite that, or may be because of it, the APC have been even more strenuous in their denial. But to me, one thing remains certain and clearly manifests one point. As a political party, there is a very thin line, if any, between the APC and the SLPP. When the latter were in power, chiefs were compromised and the former complained. Now the former are at State House doing the same thing they accused the latter of, and the latter for their part are crying foul or may wolf.
Invariably, the issue of how many mouths the police bosses talk with is not new. At some point in the days of the SLPP the top echelons of the SLP, under the command of the same Inspector General, would sound so apologetic and compromised that you would rather we did not have a police force. In their eyes, they would do anything the government wanted them to do; excepting, of course, when it became evident that a power shift was imminent. That scenario seems to be raising its ugly head yet again. A conscientious government will not misuse the police for fear they will turn on them should things turn against them in future. But our politicians are as myopic as some of them can be sometimes stupid.
But back to the issue of the independents and their apparent harassment. Again during the era of the SLPP in 2004, those who felt securing a ruling party symbol was all they needed to win an election got frustrated and went independent the moment they could not get it. Then war broke out between the party and its rebellious members.
Again, many of these independents complained of harassment and intimidation at the hands of the SLPP in the party’s south-eastern strongholds during the 2004 local council elections. So they probably lack any moral fibre to denounce the APC for same. The point though is this: the APC should not repeat mistakes of the SLPP lest there should have been no reason to have voted them in their stead and they will be defenestrating the confidence of the people. And the manner in which it is being carried out now is most galling.
The number of independent candidates that have been forced or induced to step down is ever increasing. As at the last count, the number was around 50. This has messed up the ballot papers in those wards. Truth is, NEC cannot afford to print the ballot papers again, which was done overseas. Implication: the people will have to still determine among many names some of which are no longer officially running for the post. I bet my life that some of the withdrawn candidates will definitely receive some votes owing to the ignorance of some of the electorate.
In deciding on whether or not to withdraw from the race, some of the now-former candidates only had in mind what was in for them. Nothing else! Since this poses a huge logistical nightmare on the electoral commission especially during counting of ballots never mind the big disservice it is to the electorate, some huge fines should be levied on those candidates who pull out of a race after ballots are printed.
It is looking apparent that some of these independent candidates register their candidacy not to have a shot at the office they are nominated for. But to augment their bargaining power for some horse-trading; hence treating the whole contest as a bagatelle.
A candidate who knows a heavy fine awaits them will reconsider a move to step down. And a political party which knows it must pay a candidate huge money to have them step down will reconsider the approach.
Having said that, one worrying sign the whole bid to get candidates to step down brings is the apparent attempt to have all think or be or accept the committing party. I have the strong impression that the APC, like the SLPP would rather the country was a one-party state with only them in governance. Otherwise why would they move to force independents to step down? And in the case of the APC even courting SLPP candidates to step down for theirs.
If the trend by certain members or supporters of the APC is not discouraged, their party will pay the price the SLPP did pay. Whoever underestimates the sophistication of a large section of the electorate, underestimates themselves. Those of us who make up our mind devoid of any tribal or regional considerations are still a sizeable number. And we are the ones to court. Each political party should behave with civility and decency for we will not accept any authoritarianism in this country any more. We know the top of the police is compromised, but not all is lost. It still looks ever so true that POWER CORRUPTS AND ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY. [email protected] is my email address. By Umaru Fofana