Remember the national delegates’ conference of 2005 in Makeni that crowned Solomon Berewa as the presidential candidate of the SLPP party. Remember the breakaway of Charles Margai and a number of the party’s other supporters plenty enough to punish. Remember the echoes of forty years gone by with a repeat of the defeat of the SLPP at the hands of the APC. Remember…remember…remember…
History, the saying goes, will always repeat itself. That repeat is what all parties dread and dread to think of. The stolid, sunny and simple virtuousness that the rainy season of July and August of 2007 brought the APC is a genuine reminder of what it means to allow a crack from within – implosion is probably the word. You can check out of power, they say, but you don’t want to leave it. In fact you want to die powerful even if not in power. How true. How so true! How true that is in Sierra Leone. Sometimes at the expense of the people the politicians should be representing. Clearly the PMDC also had this in mind when they met last month.
I doubt anyone expected a major political drama to emerge from the national delegates’ conference of the People’s Movement for Democratic Change which took place in Kenema two weekends ago. Perhaps save one which, incidentally, did happen; maybe not as expected. So please rephrase as appropriate.
Now, apart from the decision to step down by the man many had predicted could cause an upset by unseating Charles Margai as leader of the PMDC, many other things went on as anticipated. In a way that left many still reeling, Steven Gaojia withdrew as a leadership contender. Two days earlier, he had sounded very determined to run and win when we discussed at Hotel Sahara in Bo where we were both based. There, a supporter of the ruling All People’s Congress party told me how much he was praying for Mr Margai to win and wanted Gaojia to step down for him. There also, I spoke on the other hand with someone else who was praying for Gaojia to go on with his intention if only to eat into Margai’s votes. Wondering why?
Well those who wanted Gaojia to go on wanted a split in the south-eastern votes so as to give an edge to Dawda Tombo Bangura, the other contender in the race. For very selfish political reasons, they both had a game plan. Perhaps the new dimension is the Tombo Bangura route. Being a northerner, SLPP supporters thought victory for Bangura to be a presidential candidate for the 2012 elections would mean some APC votes drifting just as a vote for Margai would mean a minus for the opposition SLPP.
I would not be the least surprised if, like Osman Kamara and his PDP Sorbeh party said and did in 2002 when they endorsed President Tejan Kabbah and did not put forward a presidential candidate, Charles Margai and his PMDC party did not put present a presidential candidate in 2012. But may be they would like to go further by having a presidential running mate on the APC ticket of President Ernest Bai Koroma. I will also not be the least surprised if Dawda Tombo Bangura declared for the SLPP like Dr Shekuba Saccoh did for the APC when he lost an election in the SLPP. In a country where very few politicians – if any – stand for any principles at all, “CROSSTITUTION” is expected by politicians.
But back to the PMDC and their convention, there was one remarkable thing that happened, or did not happen. There was the conspicuous absence of the party’s lynchpins from the south, especially Bo, where the party won over 40% of the votes less than two years ago. For the party to be very relevant in what is becoming the political minefield that seems to await 2012 it has to redefine and reposition itself in the south especially following its abysmal showing during the local council elections last year and the by-election in Pujehun where, despite being the incumbent, it trailed a distant third place.
But with all three main political parties now having held their national delegates’ conference what next for them? The APC have endorsed President Ernest Bai Koroma as their next flag bearer. His running mate should be the current vice president, Samuel Sam-Sumana. But that is anything but clear cut yet. There are many gunning for the seat that is just a heartbeat from the presidency even if ours is a place where no vice president has ever succeeded his boss. What ditching the current vice president could mean for the APC’s chance of a return to State House will be the subject of a future article as I am in Kono at the moment gauging the mood in this swing district which threw the SLPP out of office in 1967.
Under their new constitution, the SLPP still have to hold another delegates’ conference before the 2012 contest. In the coming months and couple of years, candidates and their running mates will start popping up for the race. Constitutional analysts and party big Vons are in dispute as to whether or not the party’s chairman John Benjamin or anyone else in the current SLPP executive is eligible to run for leader or running mate of the party. Some say the party’s new constitution bars them from doing so, while others argue that a serving member need only resign ahead of the convention in mid to late 2011. At a press conference last year, when I asked the party’s current chairman, John Benjamin on whether or not he intended to run, he was circumspect, probably suggesting that he is interested.
If the PMDC decide to field in a presidential candidate it will be interesting who Mr Margai’s choice will be for a running mate. Many of his supporters criticised him in 2007 for choosing someone they felt was ageing, a has-been and a vote-loser. Whether or not that was a fair assessment of Dr Tejan-Jalloh who had served President Kabbah as health minister, the fact remains his being on the ticket did not add much value to the PMDC’s votes even in his hometown of Kabala.
What is also highly likely is that there will be more political parties sprouting up ahead of the elections in three years. Even though they know they will not stand any realistic chance of doing anything impressive, don’t discount the return of the runaway politicians and their runaway parties. They include but by no means are they limited to the UNPP, PDP, PLP, NDA, to name but four of the ten or so that disappeared following the elections of 2012.
So with the parties having held their delegates’ conference now, intra-party tension should have ebbed somewhat. In a country where the tension is both within and between parties, this is a moment to calm the nerves. The parties should cooperate to hem in on their supporters who have the profound proclivity to go overboard and be violent. It is an opportune time for the United Nations and other stakeholders to hold the parties at bay and engage them now to intensify the campaign against political violence and save our country and preserve its peace whatever the mathematical formula. + + + = +, while – + – = -. By Umaru Fofana