BY: Winstanley. R. Bankole. Johnson
Mr. Suliaman Banja Tejan-Sie’s submissions in the Press: “Proportional Representation Revisited – A Case For Greater Political Participation In Our Body Politic” provides ample justifications for the gerrymandering suspicions of the wider electorate as a basis for the recently concluded Mid-Term Census from which ill-concocted provisional figures were “churned out” by Statistics Sierra Leone. And I insist on the words “churned out”, having due regard for the proven unsuitability, unreliability and incompetence of the Principal Advisers to the Statistician General Prof. Osman Sankoh, all of whom according to a usually credible Dr. John Idriss Lahai are said to have been recruited and deemed eligible on the basis of fake University Degree Certificates.
My fears are that any time soon, this government with a penchant for riding rough-shod over constitutionality and or public sentiments would rush towards implementing those recommendations by invoking the said Sec. 38A of the 1991 Constitution (as amended), but access to which pertinent information the public does not seem to be familiar with .
Now here is the conundrum: The entire Section 38 (including its sub-sections 1 to 8) of the Constitution defines among other things on whom the roles and responsibilities for:
- Delineating electoral boundaries and allocating constituencies on pro-rata basis per overall population of the inhabitants within each of such constituencies
- The frequency for reviewing/altering such boundaries and population delimitations as the Electoral Commission deems fit
- The effective implementation date of such electoral boundaries and population delimitations ……etc rests.
However what Sec. 38A (the said amendment) has done is to give the President unambiguous and unequivocal authority to proceed with conducting partial election on Proportional Representation (PR) basis after consultations with the Electoral Commissioner. That is to say the President in consultation with the Electoral Commissioner now has additional powers to arrange an alternative or parallel electoral approach by government to elect members of Parliament notably by the District Block representation system in a situation where and I quote “……the President may, after consultations with the Electoral Commissioner direct that such election(s) shall be conducted on the basis of the existing districts in a manner to be known as the District Block representation systems – instead of by Constituencies”.
My understanding of the forgoing is that a possibility exists now for this SLPP government to run the 2023 Parliamentary elections both by constituency-based and District Block elections systems in tandem in situations where and I quote again: “……the President may, after consultations with the Electoral Commissioner direct that such election(s) shall be conducted on the basis of the existing districts in a manner to be known as the District Block representation systems instead of Constituencies”.
And the only situations that come to mind wherein for the 2023 Parliamentary elections the President may have to “consult” with the Electoral Commissioner on the choice of elections to be conducted will be for in those areas in which, even though a date has been appointed for elections to be conducted, electoral and population boundaries have not been established in accordance with Sec. 38 (3) of the Constitution and accordingly the District Block/PR approach will suffice – Hence Panguma and Bandajuma when they crystalize with a “provisional” total population of over four hundred thousand (400,000) will automatically give the SLPP a minimum advantage of say ten (10) Parliamentary seats advantage even before balloting begins.
But here’s a quick digression: Whoever told anyone that the basis for the recently concocted Mid-Term Census figures was for development planning or it was because the SLPP cared about anything or anyone outside their South-East strongholds must have been having a “day-mare” during a siesta. All those arrests and detentions effected against opposition leaderships were mere distractions, especially so when you consider the paltriness of fines payable upon for conviction for violation of the Census laws. In hindsight, was the flow of such bad blood really necessary? Not unless to give the world an impression of evidence of a commitment of sorts to both intents and purposes. So the Mid-Term Census has played itself out, as have the “Provisional Figures” churned out, which because of the exigency of time (will not make it possible for Constituency-based elections to be conducted on the date announced in 2023). And it those “Provisional Figures” that will be used to arrange a District Block pattern of voting in both newly created Bandajuma and Panguma.
But let’s revert to the substance of this piece. I respect the submissions of Mr. Suliaman Banja Tejan-Sie, but refuse to agree with him that political gerrymandering was not in their focus at the time of contriving the Mid-Term Census. The SLPP knows too well that going five years, they still cannot win the hearts and minds of the electorate – not even in their perceived strongholds unless with outright intimidations – in any free, fair and credibly conducted first past the post elections. Hence the urge to impose a parallel District Block PR voting pattern in specific areas because here the words of former United States President Barrack Obama holds true that the SLPP have spent so much time dividing us that they are not able to re- unite and govern us as a united people in a united country anymore. “So for sayka dat seff leh all tin pwell!!” That is as good as saying to cut off their noses and spiting themselves.
I also disagree with Mr. Tejan-Sie that the risks of political violence based on intra-party face-off, daggers-drawn confrontations and squabbles culminating in loss of valuable lives and properties will be eliminated (or even minimized) in the event PR Block System is applied. There has been and will always continue to be “internecine or inter-party” face-off, daggers-drawn confrontations and squabbles too, as long as our economy remains as unproductive as it has always been since independence, with Parliamentary representation now turning out to be the safest and fastest way to influence, opulence and affluence.
So what I find beneath the veneer of Mr. Tejan-Sie’s submissions is a desire in the SLPP to play smart without being clever. To perpetuate an unpopular regime in office through a systemic manipulation of the Constitution, and by extension continue further polarization of Sierra Leone along ethno-regional lines. And that is a fact which should be pro-actively managed by outright rejection of any proposition for a PR for Parliamentary elections as in the form now being recommended by the SLPP. And there should be no procrastination about that because the ever latent danger is that in our kind of “Winner takes it all” political environment in which the game plan is to persecute political opponents into extinction through a consistent deprivation of their accesses to life and livelihood, once the District Block System becomes entrenched in a society as polarized into tribal and regional smithereens within the last four (4) years as ours, ethnic and regional priorities will become accentuated, and that could soon degenerate into actualization of physical “ethno-regional political strongholds” at the detriment of national integration and cohesion. Otherwise it shouldn’t be long before only names and tribes synonymous particular regions begin to be represented in politics, signaling the final partition of Sierra Leone into North-West and South-East, each with their own President as was mooted in a text message from one die-hard SLPP supporter immediately their Party was announced victorious in 2018.
No country should tolerate the existence of political parties that espouses ethnicity. Equally so political leaders should be seen building bridges to unite amongst ourselves and across regions; not creating walls intended to separate us for good.
So am I saying PR District Block pattern of representation is outrightly bad for our country? Absolutely not!! But not in the format proposed by the SLPP or Mr. Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie. In the event it’s a path we have to inevitably tread, two priorities must underpin it:
- Paramount Chieftaincy representation in the National Parliament and their unrestricted participation or involvement in wholesomely national discourses must be discontinued.
- The PR District Block pattern of Parliamentary representation whenever it is properly defined, must give full cognizance to a balanced pro-rata Tribal/Ethnic representation quota in each political party, to ensure that minority interests are represented in all sublime national decision making body (including Parliament), in the same way as a quota for female representation is being actively considered. Unless that becomes entrenched, it won’t be long before minority groups countrywide become subsumed.