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Kailahun and Tonkolili bye-election results: the politics and the lessons for the SLPP

Kailahun and Tonkolili bye-election results: the politics and the lessons for the SLPP

Since the provisional results became public knowledge of the bye-elections in both constituency 001 in Kailahun and Ward 229 in Tonkolili, many things have been said about the results with even percentages of vote share floated in the air . And just in case as you read this piece, you may not have seen the provisional results here they are: Constituency 001 (Kailahun) Patrick Foyah (SLPP) 11,114 (70%) Susan Bonah (APC) 4,856 (30%) Void 888; Ward 229 (Tonkolili) Samuel Jalloh (APC) 1,508  (61%) Ansumana Turay (SLPP) 867 (35%). For obvious reasons our APC friends would want to talk more about the Kailahun Parliamentary bye-elections than the Tonkolili ward bye-elections – that is the politics of bye-election results.

So when the provisional results for Kailahun bye-election became clear, I received a text message from my APC friend who strenuously tried to compare the provisional results with the 2012 Parliamentary results for the same constituency which was as thus: SLPP 14,397 (69%)  APC 5,361 (26%). I guess my friend wanted to make the point that APC increased their percentage of the valid vote cast  by 4% since 2012 even thou the actual number of votes the APC received in 2012 as compared to 2013 decreased by more than 500 votes.

Assuming you are the chairman of a parent company (APC National body), you invest “x” amount of money in November in a subsidiary company (Constituency 001) and get 26% profits. Ten months on, driven by an appetite to massively increase that 26% profits, you again invest five times the “x” amount of money you invest in November and massively increase your workforce especially with other “big guns” from the parent company. Then when the results are announced there is only a slight increase of the profits from 26% to 30% whilst at the same time more than 500 customers deserted your subsidiary business. If I were the chairman of that parent company I will ask the managers of the subsidiary company and the “big guns” to give a thorough account of the huge sums of money we invest.

From the business angle, let us put that APC results into political context. Here was a bye-election in which APC poured so much financial resources that it is estimate that the APC spent five times more than they did in 2012. As a governing party, the Paramount Chief and his section chiefs made no secret during the campaign that they had made a political promise to deliver the constituency for APC. This is the same APC which in 2012 won a parliamentary election in constituency 007 and five local council seats, so their political appetite has grown bigger and bigger.   Yet, on the other hand, there was an SLPP  which neither has the financial resources nor local political influence from the chiefs. Worst still, the APC campaign deliberately played the gender card that SLPP does not believe in women’s empowerment in politics forgetting the fact that the SLPP was the first party to develop a gender policy which aims at increasing women participation in politics. But by the time the women came out in their thousands for the last campaign rally the APC campaign knew that playing that gender card was like talking to a brick wall.

It is the same way last week when Maada Bio travelled to Kailahun to boost the bye-election campaign, another APC friend was provoking me and in his words  “SLPP is rapidly dying because even their own stronghold, you guys have to call on your ‘tormentor'”. Well, I had to remind my friend that in February this year in Constituency 92 Parliamentary elections, Pres. Koroma had to physically take the hands of the APC  candidate, Ibrahim Pateh Bah, and walked him through the constituency from Regent to Waterloo. And even with Pres. Koroma’s visit  only 24.7% of the 52,783 registered voters bothered to vote.

The difference between Maada Bio and Pres. Koroma is that whilst the latter is still the leader of the APC, the former had graciously relinquished his position as flagbearer of his party but the beauty of the SLPP is that every member has the potentials to contribute towards the electoral success of the party. For instance, here is Maada Bio who had left Sierra Leone on an official trip to Ghana a week before the slated date for the Kailahun bye election and from Ghana he should have proceeded to the United Kingdom for another official engagements among which was to attend the UK governing Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. Yet whilst he was in Ghana, he was informed that the bye-election campaign was becoming increasingly volatile as our APC friends were pouring huge sums of money whilst the local chiefs were exerting too much political influence to the disadvantage of the SLPP. So Maada Bio had to abort his official engagements in Ghana and cancel those in the UK to travel back to Freetown. Within 48 hours, he was on the road to Kailahun. And travelling on those roads leading to Kailahun reminds me of a great African novelist who once describes similar roads in a book where he narrates his sojourn back to his village “the roads become a mere death trap in the rainy season as the potholes and mud continuously signal the deprivation and poverty ahead”.

And it was not all about the millions of leones in financial contributions Maada Bio made to the campaign, his physical presence rallied the troop as even supporters of RUFP in the constituency had to make public declarations to join the SLPP. For me when I joined the SLPP years ago as a student, this was what the SLPP was all about individual members making sacrifices and demonstrating commitments to the success of our party most times at great personal loss. Similarly I have learnt there were some diaspora branches and SLPP groups which contributed and many individuals including lawyer Prince Goba (London) who mobilised the financial contributions which led to the successful campaign and victory of the SLPP in constituency 001; we have all shown that working together we are stronger.

So the lessons we can learn as a party, it is high-time we put our individual differences aside and work in the interest of our great party. These elections have given us an opportunity to show that our people maybe poor but majority so far have refused to be bought. And for many grassroot members who never benefitted from this party throughout the party’s eleven years reign in governance all they want to see is a united SLPP and a constructive opposition which echoes the aspirations of ordinary people. Yes in an ideal world for APC to secure such numbers of votes in our stronghold should be a concern and I hope the district executive will reach out to those disaffected people who for reasons other than money may have switched support to APC.

Also, whilst it is crucial like every party to consolidate our strongholds in the Southeast yet the elections in Tonkolili should also encourage us that there are thousands of ordinary people who still believe in the values of the SLPP in the North. And we know if those our members in the North are free from political intimidation, their votes are counted and ballot boxes are properly manned during elections then we can prove wrong our critics wrong that the SLPP is not only a “southeast” party.  So the questions for the party in future elections will be: How does the SLPP protect and defend its members in the North from political intimidation and victimisation? How can the party better mobilise its members in the North to ensure as many as possible vote in any election? How will our polling agents ensure the ballot boxes are properly manned and the counting process strictly monitored?   For instance in the recent ward 229 elections whilst the total APC valid votes cast collapsed almost by 50% as compared to what they secured in the 2012 local council elections in the same ward, the SLPP votes have a percentage increase to almost 35% as compared to the percentage of the valid vote cast in 2012.

Finally, it will be too simplistic that following such bye-election results, for any of us to  assume that our party does not have great challenges ahead. In 2014  there will be a national population and housing census which will be crucial in terms of constituencies in the 2017/2018 elections, is the SLPP effectively monitoring the process? There is the on-going constitutional review process which is also very crucial to see whether it can be manipulated for political purposes, is the SLPP effectively monitoring the process? There is the on-going cost of living crisis for ordinary people, is the SLPP doing enough to echo the cries of ordinary people? Are our MPs properly capacitated and supported by the party to scrutinise government policies and initiatives in parliament? And is the national executive robustly engaging the media to hold the government to account on national issues and update the press on its activities?  Yes, we should be happy with the bye-election results and it is a step in the right direction. Just imagine what our APC friends would have said if the SLPP had lost the election in Kailahun and performed badly in Tonkolili.

By Yusuf Keketoma Sandi

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