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The APC Convention: A political façade, if not a joke! PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Commentary
Written by Dr Ibrahim Seaga Shaw, Senior Lecturer, Media and Politics, Northumbria University, UK   
Friday, 20 October 2017 12:33

Thanks to AYV partnered by AFCOM, I was able to followthe live coverage of the APC and SLPP conventions on my mobile phone from my base in the UK.It was good that both conventions took place simultaneously last week end (October 15-16, 2017) because, at the very least, it provided the opportunity to those keenly following the two historic events to compare and contrast them, not least in terms of democratic processes and procedures. Let me start by talking about how I saw the APC convention held in Makeni, then compare,and contrast it with what I saw at the SLPP convention held in Freetown.

The APC Convention

I must say that I was concerned about the very flawed process of selecting, rather than electing, the APC presidential flagbearer, Dr Samura Kamara and his running mate, Chernor Maju Bah, as well as the national executive committee of the party, for the March 7 2018 elections. By singlehandedly sanctifying and implementing such a very problematic process, President Ernest Koroma blatantly defied basic democratic protocol and denied all the hundreds of APC delegates who braved all odds to be at the conference the right to vote for the candidates of their choice. This is not only a bad precedent in our fledgling democracy butperhaps more disturbing; it is a recipe for chaos with ramifications not just for the ruling APC party but also for the peace of Sierra Leone as a whole. Social media platforms are already awash with images and videos of protests and burning of APC posters in Port Loko, Kono etc.in reaction to the selection of the APC ticket.

Moreover, most APC delegates abandoned the convention hall in Makeni as soon as the names of the selected national executive members (largely dominated by the same people), the flagbearer and his running mate were announced. It did not come as a surprise, therefore, to see proceedings at the convention coming to an abrupt end no sooner the selected flagbearer and his running mate came to the podium following invitation by President Koroma with no time for victory speeches.It really made a mockery of the APC convention and I honestly wonder why all the 28 candidates who declared their intentions to run for the APC ticket wasted their time crisis-crossing the country to campaign for votes when they knew that there was in fact not going to be any opportunity for anyone to vote for them. The whole thing smacks of a political façade, if not a joke!

Some commentators have likened this autocratic process to that of electing a new pope. However, I honestly find this parallel to be problematic since a Pope, who is also a Bishop of Rome, is elected (not selected) by a two-thirds supermajority of the College of Cardinals. Perhaps the nearest thing to what happened at the APC convention one can think of is the election, or rather selection, of the Chinese president every ten years.However, even here there could be a problem since the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s highest state body, which also has power to remove the president and other state officials, elects the Chinese president. The election or removal of a president or state official is decided by a simple majority vote. On the contrary, no such thing as a simple majority vote by the convention delegatesor the members of APC’s NEC, took place at the APC convention.What happened was that President Koroma and other members of the APC NEC emerged from a short meeting where they claimed to have held consultations, not election, and the next thing we saw was somebody announcing the list of the supposed selected new NEC members; delegates were then asked to endorse the list by a show of hands. The television cameras of AYV unfortunately did not show the delegates raising their hands in endorsement, if at all they did.Even if they did endorse the list in that way this would have hardly made any difference since it was highly likely that any dissenting voice would have been quickly silenced, or bundled out of the hall. President Koroma, who doubles as chairman and leader of the party for life, was then given the honour of the last word, which he used to announce his selected flagbearer and running mate without referring to the APC NEC. What was even more discouraging for democracy was the similar simple endorsement of President Koroma’s imposition of himself as ‘leader for life’ of the APC party without a single dissenting voice in the convention hall. This can perhaps only be compared to what we often see in communist North Korea. But I am sure it will not be long for us to start seeing how unsustainable all these internal political machinations of the APC would turn out to be!

The SLPP Convention

What happened at the SLPP convention in Freetown turned out to be in sharp contrast to what happened at the APC convention in Makeni. It was a clear culmination of the first SLPP convention, which took place about three weeks earlier in Kenema between September 15 and 17. According to manydelegates and independent observers, who attended the convention in Kenema, the National Executive Committee members of the main opposition party were elected in free, fair and transparent elections organised by an independent electoral commission set up by the former SLPP NEC.According to press reports, candidates for NEC positions openly and peacefully campaigned for the votes of the delegates who in turn cast their votes for the candidates of their choice in secret ballots.The same electoral commission organised the election of the SLPP presidential flagbearer at the SLPP convention, which I watched live on the screen of my mobile phone thanks to AYV powered by AFCOM.The processes and procedures were very similar to what happened at the SLPP convention in Kenema as all five flagbearer candidates were given the platform to make the case for their candidacy.The supporters of the candidates wereallowed to move around to campaign for the votes of the party delegates, who were later called one by one to cast their vote after verification of their identity.From the way I saw it on AYV TV, the whole process wasnot only peaceful but also largely free, fair and transparent, thus meeting all the ingredients of a truly democratic process. Moreover, here unlike what we saw at the APC convention, Maada Bio, who emerged as the clear winner of the SLPP flagbearer election with 475 votes had the opportunity to deliver his victory speech amidst thunderous applause. (John Benjamin, who polled 116 votes, came second; followed by Dr Alie Kabba-11; Munda Rogers-10; and Bond Wurie-6). I was therefore not sure why panellists who took part in the discussion of the AYV Sunday programme anchored by Angela Ngweni, which I also followed, struggled to accept and say the hard but honest truth about the reality of the marked difference between what happened at the APC and SLPP conventions when asked. Almost all three contributors to the programme sang from the same hymn sheet in comparing the two conventions as being manipulated and yet still mustered the courage to openly admit that the APC convention was based on selection while the SLPP one was based on election. But of course, the devil is in the detail because the question is raised if, as they admitted, the APC convention was based on selection, and the SLPP one on election, then where the hell is the parallel they were talking about? I was particularly appalled to hear one of the panellists, Dr Abu Bakar Kargo, who, by the way, taught me International Relations at FBC, University of Sierra Leone, praising President Ernest Koroma for imposing his candidates on the APC delegates, because, according to him, political leaders are supposed to tell their people what is good for them, and not the other way round. However, with all due respect to my former professor, I beg to defer; while I agree that political leaders are supposed to provide leadership and direction for their people, this must be done in consultation with them in a true democratic spirit. Unfortunately, as things turned out this was not what happened at the APC party convention.

I want to end this piece by strongly recommending that the Political Parties Registration Commission consider the possibility of introducing some guidelines, perhaps in the future, which would ensure that all political parties follow democratic procedures and processes of electing party executives and presidential flagbearers.

 

 

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