DO WE NEED OPPOSITION PARTIES ANYWAY?
By Abdul Bero Kamara-078-852595
The secret of the success of democracy in England, the oldest democracy in the world, is because of a viable and a strong opposition. On the contrary, in Sierra Leone the weak and dysfunctional opposition parties are a cause for concern for our young and fragile democracy. So do we need opposition parties anyway?
Though our country is being considered a democratic nation, yet, I would like to ask this million dollar rhetorical question- Do we really have functional opposition parties in Sierra Leone, or have they lost sight of the real goal? Truly speaking, I am not trying to provoke any controversial debate; however, as a concerned citizen, I would like to put our opposition political parties under the political microscope for critical analysis, and something to ponder about.
What is the role of an opposition party in a true Democracy?
The main duties of any opposition party are: to question and hold the party in governance accountable to the public at all times, to criticize the government and more or less force it to implement its manifesto. The opposition is also expected to criticize government policies in the national interest and not for individual gains thereby upholding the best interests of the people of the country. Additionally, the opposition is expected to ensure that the government does not take any steps which might have negative implications on the people of the country.
Also, an opposition is responsible to make a sound contribution towards the efficient running of the country, and should be able to demonstrate how their policies could achieve better results, or provide a better alternative. Cognizant of the fact that governing parties need to recognize that an effective and responsible opposition is essential for the success of parliamentary democracy, equally, it is incumbent upon the opposition to be more efficient, honest and to make sure that all criticism are based on sound principles. By and large, in a true democracy the aims of the government and the opposition should be the same – for the good of the people.
Conversely, if I could recall, the last time we had a strong and functional opposition party was in 2002 when Ernest Bai Koroma was leader of the opposition All peoples Congress Party (APC) where he was able, and at all times, to make his APC party an effective and viable opposition, the result of which saw him into the State House through the ballot box. Today the APC party is in power and Ernest the President going unto his second term in office. That is the essence of a true democracy and the fundamental goal of an opposition party.
Evidently, President Koroma has been playing his own part by providing a levelled playing field and a good forum for effective opposition parties. This is seen in his ability to accommodate the basic tenet of democracy which is Freedom of speech. People can now talk and express their views freely without any fear of being arrested, which was not seen during the SLPP administration of the late President Ahmed Tejan Kabba. Unfortunately, despite the levelled playing field that the APC government provided, we have still not been able to see the desired outcome of an effective and viable opposition; and the possibility for such is very remote.
Ironically, since the APC party came back to power in 2007, we have seen the demise of strong, viable and functional opposition parties, because their leaders have a personal interest above their parties and the nation; consequently jeopardizing the true essence of democracy in Sierra Leone. In as much as I wish to see the APC party in power like the People Action Party (PAP) in Singapore which has been in power for almost sixty years; I would prefer to see a strong and a competitive opponent that will be there to check and hold my APC party accountable at all times.
MY POLITICAL BAROMETER
According to PPRC there are currently close to a dozen registered political parties among them are: SLPP, PMDC, UDM, NDA, ADP, PDP, RUF, CDP, PLP, and UNPP. However, because of limited space I will only focus on a few of them.
The SLPP is the grand old party (GOP) of Sierra Leone, and is among the oldest political party within the sub region. More importantly, the SLPP is the main opposition party, and once upon a time it was in governance, but has been in opposition for almost ten years now. Certainly, much is expected of them to keep the ruling APC party on their toes, sadly, this does not seem to be happening; instead they are constantly quarrelling among themselves. Thus, what is heartrending is the fact that supporters are using their valuable time and resources to fight and destroy each other; which is not only unfortunate for their party, but also defeating the real essence of our young democracy in Sierra Leone. So in theory the SLPP is just in existence to satisfy the requirements of a legal political entity. In practice, it is a dead wood whose relevance has not been felt by the APC; and therefore, the SLPP is now like a man that has all the human characteristics, but cannot function as a man – “erectile dysfunction”, you may want to call it!
The People’s Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) was once a rising Star and a force that was to be reckoned with. It was becoming like a force that was determined to alter the political landscape away from the premise of political dominance by the two political parties – APC and SLPP. Unfortunately, Charles Margai’s miscalculations, coupled with his arrogance, deflated the momentum of the third force and it was so sad by the second year of the first term of President Koroma’s administration, the PMDC camp was rocked with a fierce leadership battle between Charles Margai and Mohamed Bangura, which eventually saw the emergence of the UDM party under the leadership of Mr. Bangura, and the hibernation of the PMDC.
THE United Democratic Movement (UDM)
The UDM- a breakaway from the PMDC, just like the PMDC was a breakaway from the SLPP, fortunately and very quickly, took the political spotlight because their leader Mohamed Bangura was able to captivate the hearts and minds of the young folks through his sweet talk and exuberance. Unfortunately, by the time the party kicked off, Mr. Bangura, the leader, was going in different directions, hence, like the SLPP, his party became embroiled in financial scandals and leadership battles. Consequently, the party could not function as a credible opposition. According to some people, the UDM is a one man show; therefore it has not been able to create any serious impact as was expected.
Certainly, there is nothing much to highlight about the other political parties other than the intra-party fighting for money and power. However, I understand the little noise that is being caused by the new kid on the block – the Alliance Democratic Party (ADM) headed by Mohamed Kamarainba Mansaray. Like any new party leader, he has to make noise; and I mean real noise, to get recognition. Unfortunately, the majority of Sierra Leoneans are no longer excited about a third force; at least for now, because they have been disappointed by both the PMDC and the UDM.
Against that background, it is fair to opine that our current multi-party system is not working and this slowing down of political progress is hampering the effort of the APC party to transform the country into a middle income state. Therefore, it is my humble opinion that it will be in the best interest of our nation to pursue a “unilateral multiparty system”. According to my definition- Unilateral Multiparty-ism is a system where opposition parties only exist in theory which means the ruling party could be in power as long as it can win elections through the ballot box. A good example of this kind of system is the Singaporean model where the People Action Party (PAP) in Singapore has been in power for almost sixty years. After all, unilateral Multiparty-ism might not be a bad idea for mama Salone.
If Singapore which was once considered a developing nation was, through the unilateral system transformed to a middle income status through the
Leadership of Lee Kuan Yew, I see no reason why Sierra Leone could not be transformed in like manner. Like Sierra Leone, Singapore is also a young democracy that gained independence four years after Sierra Leone. So if the PAP of Singapore can do it, the APC party of Sierra Leone is also capable of getting Sierra Leone to a middle income status, which is the vision of our dynamic leader and President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma.
Singapore in snapshot (Source: encyclopedia)
The population of Singapore is five million and it gained independence from Britain on August 9, 1965. Singapore was among the poorest countries in Southeast Asia and today Singapore has a highly developed market economy. The Singaporean economy is known as one of the freest, most innovative, most competitive, and most business-friendly. “Singapore is a global commerce, transportation and financial hub, with the world’s 3rd-largest foreign exchange center, 4th-largest financial center and one of the top two busiest container ports in the world since the 1990s. It has been the only Asian country with the top AAA rating from all major credit rating agencies, i.e. Standard Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch Ratings. Singapore ranks high on key measures of national social progress. It leads Asia and 9th globally, on the Human Development Index, including education, healthcare, life expectancy, quality of life, safety, and housing.
In that light, if Sierra Leone is to become the Singapore of Africa, it is my humble opinion it must try the Singaporean model “Unitarian Multiparty-ism. I know the opposition; especially the SLPP might not welcome the idea because of its far- fetched thinking that it will win the forthcoming elections. Without any disrespect to members of the opposition, it is clearly written on the wall in bold letter that “you are not ready to rule yet” as underscored in my above analysis, based on the prevailing political environment. The SLPP must accept reality; hence it must give a chance to the APC party to continue doing the good work president Koroma has started.
In conclusion, the opposition parties do not have any clear -cut programs and policies. Their approach is often mediocre, dogmatic, personal, political, and unpatriotic, and their leaders are confused and have no idea of their aims and objectives. Unfortunately, they quarrel for power and there are frequent splits, and often defections on a large scale. It is evident the job of the opposition parties is being done by the Civil society groups and the Media, so who will have faith on these opposition parties? The truth of the matter is –the people of Sierra Leone deserve more than the status quo and are fed up with the polarization and need a party that can provide checks and balances to the governing APC party in a constructive way. So, if that is not forthcoming and ttime is running out, as a nation, we need to start conditioning our mind-set for a unitary multiparty-ism just like the Singaporean model. This is food for thought for all Sierra Leoneans! May God continue to bless the Land that We Love – Our Sierra Leone!