By Abdulai Mansaray…..
Democracy demands an opposition party, and this can only be measured on the existence of an opposition. This means that the opposition in a democracy is indispensable, and not just a luxury item on the shopping list of the constitution. In effect, it is disingenuous to see any form of political opposition as a dangerous concept of democracy. When the opposition is seen and treated as dangerous in a democracy, it is tantamount to an assault on democracy itself.
In a democracy, the existence of an opposition party is one of the concepts that differentiates it from other forms of governments. But by the same token, an opposition should not exist for constitutional reasons only. It should be strong, viable and effective, for a weak opposition could only be the midwife on the road to dictatorship.
Sierra Leone’s history of opposition parties bothers on a chequered past; thanks to a considerable period of a dictatorship government, that was euphemistically called “One-Party State” under the late President Siaka Stevens.
The void created by the lack of opposition then was chronic. It was up to the Fourth Estate, the press to fill that void. No one needs a reminder about the relationship between Pa Sheki’s government and the press corps then, a time when Pademba Road Prisons was a rendezvous of choice for those deemed “unpatriotic” by the government. The humble newspaper became the only viable opposition by default.
Following periods of interregna, our country graduated from the jaws of self-destruction into the bosom of democracy in the last two decades. Since independence in 1961, our country has been treated to a jamboree of musical chairs between the two main parties SLPP and APC. If truth be told, many see these two parties as two peas in a pod: hence the nicknames Alusine and Alhassan or Aki and “Paw Paw”. The similarities could not be too dissimilar. The political relay between these two has become so incessant that voter apathy is a permanent feature of our political landscape.
As voters continue to be disillusioned with our leaders, and irrespective of their political colouration, the one thing that keeps them interested in politics is not their loyalties to their respective parties, but the transfusion of “negative partisanship”. Our leaders have not missed the trick to misuse the most basic of our different similarities like tribe, region, clan names etc to maintain their grip on power. Cry, my beloved country.
During the stewardship of former President Koroma, the SLPP in opposition, if you could call it that then, was so dormant that it could only pass for a Trade Union. It is no secret that the opposition party was politically comatose. If anything, and in the absence of a viable opposition, former President Koroma was left surrounded by a host of sycophants masquerading as parliamentarians. It was not surprising then that as Koroma’s power grew with little or no opposition, he was lulled into a false sense of political invincibility. His authority was unchallenged, and his behaviour was beyond reproach. He saw himself as the only opposition. It was no wonder that he had the audacity to take a slash and burn approach to our constitution, sacked the democratically elected Vice President, single handedly chose the flagbearer for his party etc. The rest is history.
In those days, some of us lamented the docility of the opposition SLPP, and blamed its ineffective opposition as giving succour to the largesse of the sitting APC government.
Their lack of constructive and effective opposition meant that the political matches played by the APC did not have a referee to call out fouls and offsides. No yellow cards or red cards were issued.
Fast forward from 2018 to today, the APC is in danger of doing the same thing. Some of us are not party affiliated. Our interests lie in the democratic principles and processes of our country. That is why, it is imperative that for our nascent democracy to flourish, we need a viable, constructive and effective opposition.
Since the APC party was relegated into opposition, it only became vociferous when it cried foul for being under attack, thanks to the Commission of Inquiry (COI). Allegations of tribalism, witch hunt, nepotism and all the isms were rolled into one big party thought process. President Bio embarked on a series of charm offensives to change the narrative, but we all know that it failed to induce the desired effect.
No one is asking for violent opposition, for such behaviours only come from mediocre minds. But since the COI and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) burnt themselves into states of ember, the APC has gone mute, “Yain yain”. But it is worth noting, that the real purpose of any opposition party is not just to minimise the amount of money that the ruling party will have stolen from the people at the end of its term.
The opposition party is meant to provide checks and balances within the ambits of the constitution. It is expected to serve as the referee for these political matches. One would think that where the opposition is unable to provide such match officials, then the need for Video Assistant Referees (VAR) becomes imperative.
That is where you expect the press to step in as the VAR. Sadly, many people believe that our media, like the media anywhere else in the world has been compromised. With party card carrying officials masquerading as journalists, yellow journalism is now trendy. He who pays the piper comes to mind.
It is becoming increasingly comical that since the APC was engaged in its relegation battle from the Premier League, they are still squabbling about who should be the next Manager to lead them in the fight for promotion. It is more than three years since they were relegated, and the APC is yet to put its house in order. It has spent three whole years engaged in party constitutional gymnastics.
The former Vice President Sam Sumana and erstwhile leader of the C4C re-joined the APC on a free transfer. That was meant to be a boost to the strike force in the new 4-2-4 formation.
With the new political Premier League season due to start in 2023, it is surprising that the APC party has still not officially identified their managers…sorry “Flagbearers”.
Just like we lamented the lack of SLPP opposition during the last cycle, so we are again, crying out for a meaningful opposition today.
As an ex- military man, even President Bio would love a good political fight, and I don’t mean the “banya day mi bla” edition. It is a known fact that when you start to experience opposition, it means your strength is growing. By implication, it means that the SLPP and the government will continue to grow if we have a viable, effective and constructive opposition.
And that can only mean good for our democracy. We saw what happened to former President Koroma when he was lulled into a false sense of complacency. This was primarily because he was surrounded by loads of “yes men” who failed to whisper in his ear when things were going wrong. No one would like to see a repeat of this. It is just natural that the sea and the shore disagree.
I can hear the APC corner whispering that they are about to convene their convention soon. What took you so long? With all things being equal, we’ll be going to the polls in two years’ time. What happens during this transfer window is anyone’s guess.
Many APC supporters would hope that the new team will not be bargain buys from the championship. They would hope that even those joining on free transfers will be of proven Premier League pedigree. As for now, the names of the flagbearers remain in the rumour mill.
This is not about supporting or opposing APC or SLPP. This is about promoting, preserving and defending the building blocks of democracy for our country. As citizens, we all stand to gain if any sitting government has a referee to keep it on its toes. We need that, to prevent largesse, excesses, and the abuse of power. Every sitting government should feel watched about their activities, and I am not talking about politically motivated, insult laden social media posts. It must be constructive for the general and common good.
It doesn’t matter who you support. Even president Bio would know that his success would not be measured by his accomplishments only. It would require the courage with which he has maintained the struggle against all odds. What we need to maintain our democracy is an opposition that will operate not privately behind closed doors of the party meetings, but openly and periodically through the electorate.
Does our Democracy need a VAR?
Don’t forget to get your Marklate.
© Abdulai Mansaray.