Salone News

Sierra Leone: The Running Mate Wahala

3 October 2006 at 21:59 | 571 views


By Andrew Keili

Speculation is rife about the running mate for each of the political parties. The position of Vice President could be extremely important or marginal depending on the circumstances. The factors to be considered in the choice of a running mate in going to the polls could also be extremely complex and present a real dilemma for Presidential candidates, who basically make the choice.

Constitutionally the Vice President is a member of the Cabinet and chairs cabinet meetings in the President’s absence. He is also Chairman of the Prerogative of Mercies Committee. A sitting President can however make a Vice President as powerful as he wants him to be or could decide to marginalise him. Considering that the Vice President automatically takes over from the President in the event of the latter’s death or his being constitutionally removed from office, the Vice Presidency is potentially important.

The choice of a potential Vice President by various parties is therefore an important one. A Presidential candidate would certainly want one that would enhance his/her election prospect. A critical examination of potential factors in such a choice indicates there is more to it than meets the eye. Traditionally the following factors have been rightly or wrongly considered to be important:

Region/Tribe: Various parties have their support in specific regional areas. Specific major tribes may also be more inclined to support certain parties.

Sex: Views differ considerably on this. Some opine that women would be more likely to support women candidates. Traditionalists argue the opposite may in fact be true-that women would be more inclined to support powerful male characters. Some even go to the extent of saying they could be jealous of other women. Some traditional views of women in leadership positions should also be considered-eg the non acceptance of women as Chiefs in the North. Chauvinism may also play a large part.

Popularity: It certainly helps if a candidate is well known and well liked and could resonate with voters, however vacuous his policies. A populist with roots in a particular area certainly helps.

Religion:The rationale is that although we have a history of religious tolerance, it helps if you are seen to play a balancing act.

Perceived integrity/performance:This is often a difficult one as most politicians are distrusted and it may be difficult to judge individual performance under certain contexts. It mostly boils down to a matter of perception.

A host of new factors may have however come into play and they should certainly not be underestimated. These are mainly related to demographics and the much greater awareness amongst voters, especially with the proliferation of community radio stations (with phone in programmes) and NGOs. Shades of opinions may be much more difficult to judge than before. Some of these are as follows:

Demographic trends: The population is very young with 45 % of the population in the 18 to 35 year age bracket. They are impatient, not necessarily subject to the whims of their more traditional elders and may have markedly different aspirations. Urban migration is high (about 40%). Awareness is certainly much higher in urban areas which are also much more cosmopolitan and less prone to tribal/regional tendencies. Service delivery/meeting of expectations may be much more important for such people. They may be much more prone to vote with their conscience.

Religion: This is not the simplistic Christian/Muslim thing. It has more to do with organised groups. The Muslim Council and other Muslim groups and the various “Born again Christian” groups are very cohesive and have influential leaders who could certainly influence their membership. The Muslim groups are especially strong and could be also more aligned to particular communities.

Sex: Notwithstanding what has been mentioned before about sex, women’s groups are much more organised now and may have influence way beyond their numbers. The power of groups like 50-50, the market women’s organisations etc. cannot be underestimated. This will be negated somehow however by the fact that they are likely to be in several parties.

Tribe and region (revisited): This is not as simplistic as before. There is no real surprise in the population of the major tribes in the various Provincial areas. Mendes in the East and South and Temnes in the North still make up the vast majority of Sierra Leoneans. The major tribes in the South are Mendes (73.65%), Temnes (8.92%) and Sherbros (8.36%). In the East, they are Mendes (59.36%), Konos (15.74%) and Kissies (7.57%). In the North the figures are Temnes (59.18%), Limbas (14.64%) and Korankos (8.80%). In the Western Area, Temnes (40.31%), Mendes (14.49%) and Limbas (12.69%) are the largest tribes. The Western area only consists of 5.83% Krios. Tribes may now have a much more significant influence in areas that have not been their traditional domain.

There is no doubt that there are myriad factors which could influence the choice of a running mate. A presidential candidate may have to consider most of these factors to optimise votes to be gained. A whole host of other factors may come into the decision making. An old candidate may prefer a much younger running mate to give the team a younger look. A candidate may want someone that could be perceived to “balance out” his weak character traits-corruption, weakness, irrationality etc.

The implications are startling and someone may just choose to turn conventional wisdom on its head hoping perhaps this will not result in dire consequences. It may perhaps not be inconceivable to choose a candidate from the same region, depending on the circumstances. Several questions to ask-Are tribal and regional allegiances considerably stronger that other factors? Should demographic considerations feature more in the balancing act? Does one look out for someone who is also fit to be President, considering this position is a heartbeat from the Presidency? Do we in fact have an scientifically based rationale for some of the assumptions made for the “balancing act”? One thing is for certain, a candidate who can fit the bill for most of these factors - an “all things to all men” candidate could help. With no opinion polls in Sierra Leone it is difficult to determine the most important attributes with certitude. Suffice it to say however that political choice is not as simple as before. Simplistic generalisation could be dangerous and there could certainly be some surprises. A candidate may well decide to choose purely on competence and hope that all else will fall in place. Far from being a virtue, a running mate cold actually be a vice. Who said choosing a running mate is easy?

*Andrew Keili is a Sierra Leonean engineer.

Photo: Vice President Solomon Berewa, grappling with the running mate problem.