As economic tension rises, the people express despair at the current global economic crisis radiating to Sierra Leone’s villages, towns and cities, then comes the rude awakening to the reality of the proportional representation (PR) system of voting long gossiped and now announced by the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) with consultation from the His Excellency the president, the Rt. Brigadier and Dr, Julius Maada Bio. It is unsurprising a feeling of uncertainty in the minds of many Sierra Leoneans on the state of the nation lingers on.
In a rather unexpected unconventional procedural announcement of the proposed system of voting by Sierra Leone’s Electoral Commissions boss, Mohamed Konneh on Twitter, it is believed, the president had ordered the PR system of elections with contentions across the board on the provisions in law. Currently the pivot of debate is especially within the sphere of section 38a of Sierra Leone’s constitution that is suppose to direct the conditions for such system of voting to occur.
Given the manner of disclosure of the PR system and if one is not threading on a very thin path, it is akin to think the order is hinged on an internal battle to display think skin in his struggle to balance the economic, social and political uprising of late just to keep him re-elected come July 2023. Irrespective of the emotions that may be in the air, the PR system is here to stay with us and politics is at play with variance. What do we now make of its origin in politicking?
Well setting the stage of event in history when the main opposition party lost governance in April 2018, 10 APC MPs-elect were removed on court orders in may 2019. The court ruled, they were unqualified to run for office under the electoral laws. SLPP candidates then took the vacant parliamentary seats and the party claimed a majority. This fermented political tensions and unrest when political leaders were arrested in protest to the event.
Then came President Bio’s unflinching move to correct the acclaimed anomaly in the 2015 census data with the midterm census in recompense of their days in opposition on allegation of vote rigging and constituency demarcation. However, this was short lived also with discredit as major partners including world bank withdrew support for lack of proper planning. The census went on and in December 2021 figures indicated more population in the south-east, this time the SLPP strong hold.
In July this year, parliament began debate on the PR system and safe seats for women under the public elections bill of 2022 and in amendment to the Public Election’s Act 2012. Although many say the PR system was not for debate, unconfirmed and fragmentary evidences from reputable media practitioners and sources indicate that had already been in the guise in parliament and garnered the attention of all opposition parties even though it is being purported to be in dark. At face value, the APC and few quarters of the civil society had rejected the PR system initially. Economic situations became bothersome, felt civil liberties deprived and massive protest was staged leaving many police officers and citizens dead in the August 2022 protest now dubbed riot. The government viewed the protest as a terrorist attack and an attack on democracy with the aim to overthrow the legitimate government of President Bio.
The expression of civil decent, economic uprising and political alienation, births the need for political inclusiveness in the wake a swarm of potential independent candidates hence the divert to the PR system of voting as announced on October 20, 2022 which invariably halted the creation or reviewing of constituencies. What is unclear is why the PR system when there are valid constituencies and the conditions for such are quite frankly not met in constitutional terms? Is it that the new public elections Act had already made changes known by current parliamentarians but was not communicated at all to ordinary citizens? Was it a stage managed approach involving many duty bearers, moral guarantors and major partners? ”Dog dream lef na ein beleh.” The new adage ”we move” sets in.
in any case, under the proposed system, voters will no longer elect their representatives directly. Instead, they will use a proportional representation system that was improvised during Sierra Leone’s civil war when there were no established constituencies or that they were hard to access. The electoral system and process is currently muddied with uncertainty. It is hoped, the underlying issues of unrest be attended to especially the rules of the PR, what form (s) will be applied and early communication intervention strategies so that all get a fair share of the political space.