SLPP’s political chess game , and the party’s future after convention



By Edy Vandy :

The war of words, the verbal slips, and the blame-game continues as ever, even after the VP’s landslide leadership victory, Sunday 4th September 2005, pulling 291 or 75 percent of the total votes, over nearest challenger and rival Charles Margai’s 34 or 8.8 percent votes cast.

That’s the ugly truth. He becomes Leader and Presidential hopeful for the SLPP party in 2007, and is certainly assured of victory and becoming father figure and statesman’s by virtue of the symbol marketing him as flag bearer. Whilst his supporters are partying and lobbying for positions in an anticipated cabinet after 2007, there is disappointment, frustration and bitterness at the other spectrum, with the camps of Margai, Bio, Duada, Leigh, Bakarr and Nyallay extremely angry over their loss. They and party faithful have drawn their ammunition on a flawed convention that returned Berewa to power, seeing it as a grotesque sham. These people are raising hell following their loss. Your bet is as good as mine had they won.

Despite pleas from party stalwarts, and well-meaning compatriots for unity, cohesion and enhanced vigilance, as the means of stopping the VP from attaining victory, each went his way, resulting in a humiliated defeat. Ego has not been ruled as their weakest sore in an uncompromising attitude with one another? These men were so over confident that the failed to digest thoroughly the dualism of main contender’s resume as sitting Vice President avowed with absolute power, and doubling as chosen successor? Mind you, this election was not a referendum on popularity or most desirable! It was about making the rough plays and being dirty in the ball game. To the VP, winning was all that matters and he cared less in following the rules of engagement. These 291 men and women delegates who voted for him are political “gutcha’s”, already handpicked, brainwashed, and bought out in voting their master to power. They had nothing to loose, their main obsession been continuity, whilst their constituents were clamoring for change. Put two and two together, and the jigsaw fall in place over the hurried selection of John Benjamin as Finance Minister, immediately after the convention. He must have delivered Kailahun District as a package, in his capacity as District Chairman.

In retrospect, the political correctness should have being to pursue a surgical cleaning of the party’s mess through a legal rebuff, which Norman initiated but sidelined by the crew who could have been there for him to make this a one big fight and give Berewa a run for his money. The VP would have been demoralized by this class action, who never wanted a prolonged legal tussle, for Makeni was center stage on his mind; his own war chamber designed for ground zero. Arguably their lack of support for this motion played ball with the Supreme Court, prompting that bad call and convention clearance to organizers. Nobody can understand fully, a rushed convention date three days ahead of the courts decision. Attempting to do so will point at one thing, a leak or foreknowledge of the final verdict?

Let’s face reality here. The party is in a deep quagmire with twin political headaches. Threats of separatism are well advanced beyond redemption, compounded by the will of a few strong minded immersed in the apocalyptic montage of change. This denial by the party hierarchy and henchmen will let them underestimate the potencies of these parties emanating from their administrative wreckage over the period of time and scrubbed down white washed “coronation” of Berewa as flag bearer. Don’t tell me that these things are not true, for where the heck did parties like the PMDC, Republican Party and “Norman Party” are coming from? The SLPP of course! The new Republican Party yet in it’s infancy, should not be considered irrelevant or redundant. They have chemistry together as victims of party injustices when denied symbols to run in their given constituencies during the local government elections held in 2004. Their numbers though small will statistically erode much needed party votes. This is equally true of the Norman Party (name to be pronounced) expected to rope in die-hearted loyalist, who will follow in blind fatuity the man they have come to respect and revered, despite his present indictment and incarceration. Many though were left unimpressed, and to say the least disappointed over the party’s initial alliance proclamation aimed at the RUFP and PLP, which the RUFP leadership made a nice mince out of demanding a thorough vetting process for Norman, before any merger, giving them an uncalled media prominence. Opinion spinners anticipate a shockwaves of rejection; despite optimism by the party’s spokesman of victory and a show of force in their current membership drive yet to be unveiled. The state of affairs is now worsened with the quitting of the most popular candidate Charles Margai on Thursday 6th October 2005, who spurred on by supporters from across the country had formed a new party, the People’s Democratic Movement for Change (PDMC). Indications are that he has a solid support in Bo district, the heartland of the SLPP, which will be put to test in 2007. His chances of victory will be bolstered by a strategic relationship with the “Third Force insurgency” sweeping across the country, as unity generates power to change reality. How realistic this will be, only time will tell.

Make no mistake about this; the party’s base to hold the lead and get the comfortable majority desired is now greatly undermined. Call them losers, or what you may, these men are very important and should not be considered non-factors; for they have a political platform, and have a base they can relate with and count on for support. They wield influence and can mobilize that support for a boycott, in the worst of scenario should that decision be taken. To put it more rowdy and bluntly, these men and their parties even without winning will have dealt an encroaching blow to the party, and just possibly deny Berewa victory, unlike Tejan Kabbah who enjoyed a roller coastal win of 70 percent total votes cast in 2002 Presidential race.

Hear the truth: SLPP’s worst fear hovers around intelligentsia lethargy, particularly in the liberal constituencies of Freetown, Bo, Makeni, Kenema and Kono. Any decision stemming from frustration by this learned middle class base would be met by a more forceful resentment in a boycott, as demonstrated in the local government elections of 2004, where elite base turned their back on the party by their lack of enthusiasm to register, and where they did, withheld their votes on polling day. The opposition APC party made a capital gain out of unique opportunity, mobilized their base and won nearly all seats including the mayoral position in Freetown. In that vain, an island of desperation as part of a sea of problems has already set in from price hike, to persistent blackouts, rising unemployment, increased poverty, rampant corruption, and social injustices. The party’s base is very angry and will do anything to hurt it, if urgent measures are not taken to address these concerns. The sacking of the three ministers namely JB Duada (one of the aspirants to the Leadership), Emanuel Grant and Banda Thomas; men considered as party play makers because of their re-enforced power on their constituencies, is viewed by many as a false start of the Presidential hopeful, and has a potential to hurt the party.

Party loyalist have packaged on the need for the ruling party to refrain from making the same mistake accentuated in 2004 Local Government elections, where party symbols were dispensed on cronyism and affluence rather than popularity and strong followings. Any replication in like manner will breed independent candidates, who will be voted in power, with an outright party snub. The fact is individuals make up the party, and their deeds and good work market the SLPP. Those individuals who’ve worked hard to earn the voting franchise should be accorded party symbols, and dumping them altogether for strangers by virtue of their status because of education, wealth and gifts will depict rejection. Speculations on an SLPP’s downfall continue to hit analyst media radar, even in very traditional bases, a motion denied by the party hopefuls and henchmen, who underpin their hope on primitive party loyalty. A gentle reminder should however be given to such die-hards and fanatics that the party’s psyche has undergone an amazing transformation, with a semblance of emerging maturity. A critique look at this dogma with some research presents a disturbing assessment, where the impetus for change takes precedence over party idiosyncrasies.

The winner in all this will be Charles Margai, where his current popularity translates into votes in 2007. Many however debunked this position, thinking that he is just one man seeking political power and his PDMC will phase out like a match flicker on his disappearance or incapacitation, in a trivializing comparison with the PDP and UNDP in 1996. The PDMC’s base is leaving no stone unturned in ensuring that Margai does not impose himself on the party but rather allow the democratic process to take it’s course, to ensure sustainability and longevity over a long period of time. And with the SLPP electorate evenly divided, he only needs to reach out to all and present a clear and alternative vision and compelling agenda. Sierra Leoneans in and out of the Diaspora contends that if Margai wins, he will be the best political talent that the country has seen in decades?

And on a more positive note, the party should not give up on reconciliation. The enlightened first step for the VP is to diffuse the highly charged and polarized political war game and have a marketable running mate to help him spread his positive agenda of change and discontinuity from this current administration, seen by many as a failure. As party leader, imposed, or sanctioned, he must use his acknowledged political mandate wisely. Finger pointing, mudslinging, and name-calling from the party’s hierarchy and public relations should be frown at and nipped in the bud, with the party’s message of hope synchronized at all stratum. A unified, and cohesive SLPP at both decision and grass root levels, with the participation of all stakeholders, losers and winners is an ingredient for victory in 2007. Even with Margai, Leigh, and Duada (has yet to make a pronouncement) gone, the party can count on Bio and the Moyamba District for support, as with Kailahun, Kono and Bonthe Districts. With Freetown and the Western Area a demilitarize zone for all, SLPP only needs to make strong Northern Province inroads, for a victory cruise.

And hope is alive for the party in the election of Chairman UNS Jah and Secretary JJ Saffa, expected to turn things around. Their greatest asset for success is neutrality and being focus on the job at hand. Through fair play and re-ignition of democratic principles, particularly in symbol allocation, the party’s base could be mobilized once more to vote en-mass come 2007. They have to get it right or be damn. For JJ Blood, his credibility and future political role is on the line. He is young and dynamic, and considered the nucleus of a promising re-birth SLPP for many, many years to come. His victory on a Berewa ticket even if true means nothing at all. What matters most, borders on performance. On another level, the ruling party is advantaged on a prolonged campaign trail over any other party, because of their established presence all over the country, and access and control of state apparatus. And if bush come to shore, the policy of intimidation and heavy-handedness’ can be used when threatened in their traditional bases. SLPP cannot sit by and relinquish Bo without a fight. Recent rhetoric’s by the Chairman points to a show of force with Charles Margai in their strongholds, coupled with recent developments in Bo District, on alleged banishment of a radio talk show host by the Paramount Chief, all of which are pointers to eminent danger ahead. Words of caution: do not press too hard on this to avoid un-necessary problems. Last piece of advice, be the SLPP that you used to be and minds can be changed. The party stands on the adage of Power to the people”, and power must be restored back to the base and the country in it’s entirety. In this game there is no second chance. History should not repeat itself, as in 1967. Long live the SLPP..

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