By former Judge Adrian Fisher :
Fellow compatriots, the elections in our country are finally over and congratulations to H. E the President Dr Ernest Bai Koroma and Vice President HE Sam Sumana and the All Peoples Congress Party for their victory at the presidential polls. By all indications, it appears there would also be victory at the Parliamentary and local elections polls too.
The biggest congratulations in my view, go to the people of Sierra Leone for the way they conducted themselves during and after the elections. Many of us were apprehensive of some violence (albeit) not widespread during the conduct of the elections, due to the heightened sense of tension between the main contestants of the elections. The People of Sierra Leone have shown the world once again that Sierra Leoneans as a people can be trusted to run their own affairs in an orderly manner without conforming to the once stereotypical view of our country as a violence prone country. We have come off age in that respect as a nation. Congratulations also go to the security forces whose presence despite suspicions helped in a great way to maintain the peace during the elections.
Congratulations also go to NEC for the way they have conducted themselves during the conduct of the elections in difficult circumstances and with limited resources unlike their counterparts in other countries. Congratulations also go to the Opposition flag bearer Rtd Brigadier Julius Maada Bio and the SLPP for reasons which I will delve into later but most importantly for maintaining the peace and security of our nation. In other words, this election has been a victory for all stakeholders concerned not just for the wining political party and its contestants.
A few days ago, in my piece ‘GIVE NEC A CHANCE’ I urged our fellow citizens to give NEC a chance to announce the results and that patience has clearly proven dividends. With the announcement of NEC, the accession to the presidency of our country is done with pride and credibility which legitimises the holder of the office by law. Anything less would have deprived him unfairly of legitimacy. As I write this piece, I have just read a press release by the SLPP in which they appear “inclined not to accept the result of the polls”. I will deal with that aspect later.
Winning an election is the easiest part. The most difficult part is governing. It becomes even more difficult after a divisive and polarised election such as the one we have just had. Consequently the most immediate task of the president is to unify the country. The voting patterns and eventual results shows there is deep dislike of both parties in their respective strongholds with both candidates polling poorly in their opponent’s stronghold. Sierra Leoneans must not lose sight of that. The President has started that process by calling on the SLPP and other opposition parties in his acceptance speech to join him in moving the country forward. Though such a move is welcome, much more needs to be done.
For a start, those forumites on Facebook can help the President in his task by not continually gloating and taunting opposition supporters who currently feel aggrieved but by encouraging them to deal with the defeat they have just suffered thereby encouraging them to cooperate in nation building. The President can continue the reconciliation process by appointing capable Sierra Leoneans from whatever party or region to join his team regardless. APC supporters can also help the President by not showing dissatisfaction should the President appoint a non APC member who is more competent than an APC member to a position in government. If they are really serious about the development of Sierra Leone, they should be prepared to accept those compatriots who are more qualified than them to secure jobs that will move the country forward after all their party is still the ruling party. It will also put an end to the winner take all mentality in sierra Leone elections which have been a rich source of venom and tension at elections . They can also help the President’s reconciliation efforts by not casting aside those political refugees who left their party to join the APC simply because elections are over and they feel they are no longer needed.
Why is all this necessary? The simple answer is UNITY. Sierra Leone will not develop if it is not united. A country where 42% of the population with a significantly higher percentage in one region votes against the President is a country that needs unification. No region of the country deserves to be left out of the development strides neither should any region feel alienated. The President indeed recognised this issue in his acceptance speech and has pledged to address it.
A number of observers including forumites have vilified Julius Maada Bio for refusing to concede defeat and accept the results. I ask why the vilification? As a country we are desperately seeking to promote our democratic credentials. What is DEMOCRACY? Grievances are a fact of life even in our various offices there are grievances. Even in the home, there are grievances between families. We must expect grievances within our political system where there is no prize for second place. Julius Maada Bio and the SLPP are entitled in democratic governance to express a grievance with the election results as long as any expression of such grievance is democratic and within the Rule of Law. Dr Thorpe in her announcements had this to say: “Any citizen of Sierra Leone may challenge the validity of the election of the president by petition to the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone, within seven days after the declaration of the presidential results”. s55 of the Public Elections Act 2012 validates what Dr Thorpe has said (above). If NEC (and by implication Parliament) has provided a vehicle for challenge to presidential results in an election, why should Julius Maada Bio and the SLPP be vilified for wanting to exercise their right to challenge a result which NEC who conducted the election and Parliament have given to them?
Fellow citizens , vilifying them would be most undemocratic. Julius Maada Bio and the SLPP should be congratulated for wanting to promote democracy by launching legal challenges where appropriate. Democracy dictates that if they disagree with the results they have a right to exercise a right of appeal. That is the beauty of democracy which we should not ignore simply because we may not agree with it. Dictatorships are opposed to all forms of dissent not so in a democracy. Laws are there for a reason. Today it might be the SLPP wanting to exercise that right of redress. Next time round it may be the APC wanting to exercise that right. It would not be correct to say because SLPP were not allowed to exercise that right so APC should also be prevented from doing so. The Law is the law and it is there for everyone. The beauty of s55 of PEA 2012 is that subsection(2) makes provision for the President to continue in office unless the Supreme Court rules that the election of the President was invalid and most importantly even if the court rules that the election was invalid, it does not invalidate any action taken by the President up to that day. Consequently whether or not the SLPP accept the results or seek to challenge them, the business of government by the President MUST CONTINUE.
To the SLPP, I say defeat is never easy to accept particularly where the prize is so high. You may wish to exercise political options of challenge or legal challenges. It is entirely a matter for you, but as a party you need to think long and hard about any action taken in the exercise of your democratic right. The SLPP needs to take a thorough introspective look into itself regardless of any allegations of malpractices during the election.
The SLPP needs to ask itself a simple question. In 2002 at the height of the war and reconciliation, President Kabba secured almost 70% of the votes in the elections. After five years in 2007, the SLPP lost to the current APC with about 48% of the vote. In five years the SLPP has lost almost half of those who voted for it in 2002. In 2012, the SLPP again lost the elections scoring only 37% of the votes, even badly than it did in 2007. The SLPP has lost almost half of its support in a space of ten years. The question is why or what is responsible for such a state of decline of support for the SLPP? The answer to that question if discovered as a Party, would ease the pain of defeat in 2012 and make the SLPP stronger to contest future elections. Should the SLPP fail to carry out such a FULL, FRANK and HONEST introspection into itself, they risk fragmenting the party and weakening it to such an extent that winning an election in the future would be rendered almost impossible.
The Republican Party in the US is in a similar boat to the SLPP having lost two elections in a row and they are carrying out such an introspection into their defeat. It is up to the SLPP at this crucial time to cast itself into the political limelight as a reformed party or fade away into the political wilderness. Whichever option they choose is entirely a matter for them. In the meantime, the SLPP must remember that 37% of Sierra Leoneans voted for them and their role is to form a viable opposition to the government and to adequately represent those who voted for them. Anything short of that is political suicide. Meanwhile the clock is ticking.
By Adrian Fisher