The banning of street rallies is not the solution

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2031

By Ishmael Dumbuya

The Political Parties Regulation Commission (PPRC), in a statement, said that election periods were “no time for dancing and merriment”, but rather “times for deep reflection”.

The decision came as a surprise in a country where the two main political parties – the ruling  Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) – hold parade-like rallies that move through town. 

Under the new rules, parties must now identify a single venue such as a stadium or community centre to hold their campaign events.

A spokesman for the PPRC, Lucien Momoh, said that the ban would “minimise violence”, where “in Sierra Leone, over the years, street rallies during campaign period had posed a serious threat to the safety of ordinary people.”

According to the Commission, these rallies have been marred by violence, the use of abusive languages, and threats to political opponents.

So is it true that political rallies flame violence?

Truly speaking, the banning of political rallies is very illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional. Political rally is not a prohibited activity in the new Political Parties Act 2022. It’s lazy leadership to always slam a ban on our problems rather than attempting to confront or solve them. Our leaders have worsened our problems by this age-old habit.

Instead of banning political rallies, the PPRC and the security sector should work with political parties to introduce measures to improve the decorum of their members and supporters and curtail disorderliness. You may not like political rallies, but you must respect the right of citizens to exercise their rights and to freely participate in the electoral processes.

The answer to lawlessness at political rallies is not to ban. If you think it is, wait until you see how supporters converge at the designated centres. They would not suddenly become law-abiding while commuting to these grounds.

Lawlessness in political rallies is not addressed by a ban. This is because if you get rid of lawlessness in political rallies without addressing lawlessness in general (in electoral activities), political parties will simply take the lawlessness to the next available electoral activity.

This is what happens when you don’t address a problem. It may be dislodged but not extinguished.

Honestly, the problem we have in our country is that our heads of institutions pay less attention to the rule of law and constitutionality. They are rather concerned more about what is politically expedient and acceptable to their paymasters or powers above. In such situations, the rule book does not matter because they have the self-attributed power to make new rules as they go along, with impunity.

Solutions to ending political violence in the country       

A common sense approach to political rallies could be to confine them to designated areas that could be managed like stadiums, fields etc. Political campaigns should not be disruptive to ordinary people who do not want to participate from going about their business. Therefore banning them entirely may not be appropriate and could have the opposite effect.

Sierra Leoneans will be observing their general elections on June 24th 2023 PPRC has decided to place a sanction on political rallies which has triggered tension in average citizens, fearing that their right to freedom of movement and association/assembly, has been tampered with and violated. Talking to a good number of citizens in streets and those whose views have been expressed via media engagement and through text messaging, they saw the police action as a deliberate attempt to interfere with the election process as it also has the potential to trigger violence.

Instead of banning political rallies, the PPRC and the security sector should work with political parties to introduce measures to improve the decorum of their members and supporters and curtail disorderliness. You may not like political rallies, but you must respect the right of citizens to exercise their rights and to freely participate in the electoral processes.

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