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How many parliamentary votes government needs to adopt a new constitution?

January 17, 2022

By Alfred Koroma 

President Bio has on 13th January launched the Government White Paper which entails the recommendations government want to be in the new constitution.

The White Paper entails some of Justice Cowan’s recommendations last presented to the previous government, and those added by the Technical Committee President Bio set up.

The focus of the constitutional review process is to adopt new constitution where new laws suitable for contemporary running of the state are added and some existing ones amended.

Like other Jurisdictions, Parliament, the country’s law making body, is the center of this pretty complex political process.

Three unsuccessful attempts have been made by past administrations to review the 1991 Constitution; including the previous APC regime that now serves as the main opposition with a comfortable number of MPs whose support is required for major decisions as in changing the Constitution. But how possible would that be?

 Since 2018, after the removal of the 10 opposition MPs by the court verdict, political tensions remain stagnant among MPs. APC have condemned almost all major government policies pushed through Parliament –  and in some instances, walked out of proceedings in protest.

Sierra currently operates with a Hung Parliament. And the nation in general is deeply divided on political basis. This political landscape has the tendency to adopting a new constitution pretty more challenging.

A Bill amending the constitution or changing it has to be passed by Parliament and additionally approved at a valid referendum by citizens of the country. In such a referendum, Government needs not less than one-half of all the votes cast by qualified voters and not less than two-thirds of all the votes validly cast.  

 The current membership of Parliament is made up of 144 Members. The ruling SLPP has 58; the main opposition APC has 57; and 8 from the C4C; 4 from the NGC, 3 Independents and 14 Paramount Chiefs.

To amend the constitution, a vote of two-thirds majority in Parliament before it can be passed into law –that being the case the ruling SLPP needs 96 affirmative votes to hit the two-third majority which can only be possible if the main opposition can help it.

 Even if the ruling SLPP is able to attract all 58 votes of its members, all 14 votes of the Paramount Chiefs, all 8 votes of the C4C, all 4 votes of the NGC and all 3 votes of the Independent Members, it would still require 9 votes from the APC to hit the two-thirds majority.

 This definitely signals thuggery political steps to climb in the process of reviewing the constitution. Now, some of the recommendations included in the White Paper have once been rejected by the previous government that currently serves as the main opposition. This brings the question of whether the opposition MPs will vote in favour of recommendations they rejected while they were in governance.

Should the main opposition go against the process, there’s the tendency that they will attract  fellow members who are in the consortium of all Political Parties (COPP) which might also affect the perspective of their supporters. There is a clear lesson from the embattled Mid-Term Census to understand the current political landscape.

With the composition just indicated, Dr. Abass Bundu, the  Speaker of Parliament and a veteran lawyer, who made some of those anaylsis, prefers to maintain the 1991 constitution for now and  advised for a slow steps in its alteration, noting that except Bills for the alteration of mundane ordinary provisions of the Constitution in which all the major parties represented in Parliament have a shared interest, all other Bills face a tall order in the present Hung Fifth Parliament and it is well-nigh impossible to predict the outcome with any degree of certainty.

But the speakers advice clashes with an administration that seems to be in hurry in implementing its campaign promises and typically prefers quick fixes in doing so to prevent any campaign issue being raised against them in the pools. That notwithstanding, the pending political obstacles in the constitutional review process are clear for all to see. 

The framers of the 1991 Constitution made it enormously difficult to alter the Constitution.

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