The only opposition party in Sierra Leone, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), has reversed its decision that had ordered its lawmakers and local councilors to “stay away” from parliamentary and council proceedings.
The decision to reverse the call for a boycott was announced Thursday, December 6, following a meeting earlier in the week at State House between President Koroma and leaders of the SLPP, including Mr. Julius Bio, the party’s presidential candidate for the November 17, 2012, elections. An umbrella body of different denominations of the Christian faith, in Sierra Leone, the Body of Christ, had facilitated the meeting between the two groups in an effort to bring an end to what was becoming a political stalemate. The announcement on Thursday came about a week before the official opening of the new Parliament in the capital, Freetown, following national elections on November 17.
The party, on Tuesday, November 27, 2012, ordered the boycott, days after incumbent President, Ernest Koroma of the All People’s Congress (APC) Party, was declared the winner of the Presidential race. The SLPP had alleged election malpractices by the APC, despite an existing wide consensus among international observers that the elections were well conducted. The party had called on its deputies to stay away as a means of protest and also called for an external review of the whole electoral process. 42 SLPP MPs were elected in the poll.
SLPP’s National Secretary General, Suliaman Banja Tejan-Sie, who announced the party’s decision to rescind the planned boycott, said that in light of what he called government’s “commitment and assurance to address” their concerns, the party’s executive “direct its Members of Parliament, Mayors and Chairpersons and Councilors to take part in all Parliamentary and Local Council proceedings unless otherwise directed.”
Sources from Freetown suggest that elements within the leadership of the SLPP prevailed on the party to reconsider its stance and respond to the mediation efforts undertaken by the Body of Christ. Speculation was rife as to what was discussed when Mr. Bio and the President met privately, and rumors fueled both by the public, and the national press still persist.
This writer had argued a week ago, that the call for the boycott had little chance to hold. More so because the conduct of the election was deemed to have met internationally acceptable standards and the results recognized globally. Moreover, SLPP MPs, particularly first-timers, were, understandably, eager to get to work, as evident on Wednesday, December 5, when SLPP representatives attended a briefing session at Parliament Building, in Freetown.
The SLPP’s reversal of its call for a boycott will provide some welcome relief to the APC. Given the ruling party’s sweep in the Presidential and Parliamentary contests, it would be hard to ignore the chilling effect such a boycott would have on governance if not the entire democratic process.
One can speculate for a moment as to what next move by the SLPP will be. Certainly, the party will soon go back to the drawing board to evaluate its election’s strategies and its performance in this year’s elections, followed by what is likely to be early preparations for the next race in 2017.
It is perhaps too early to speculate meaningfully about the likely SLPP contestants for the party’s presidential ticket in 2017. Clearly, Mr. Bio cannot be ruled out as a possibility. The 48-year-old would still be in his prime and would have presumably built upon the experience gained from the 2012 race.
For the APC, 2017 may prove to be more challenging. The likable and politically savvy Ernest Koroma will step down after completing his second term. Besides, the APC will likely find some difficulty selecting from among its crop of current leaders a natural successor or at least someone whose record can match the President’s accomplishments after serving two terms in office.