From the Editor’s Keyboard

Violence in Sierra Leone Elections: A response to PMDC leader Charles Margai

9 November 2008 at 01:39 | 562 views

By Kortor Kamara, Guest Writer, USA.

In addressing the substance of Mr. Margai’s proposals and recommendations in the recent Standard Times Newspaper, it is instructive to highlight what concerns and issues have necessitated, even by his own standards, such a self-acknowledged undemocratic prescription. The legitimate grave concerns of violence, indiscipline and corruption especially during elections however cannot be the basis for the sort of radical undemocratic change being espoused and advocated by Mr. Margai in his article.

The central tenet of Mr. Margai’s proposals, “that future party representation in parliament be based on the three parties, the APC, SLPP and PMDC selecting their representatives to meet the quota allotted them...., the parties concerned would come up with their representatives using internal party procedures to select these representatives”, not only fails to address the issue of violence endemic in our elections, but only serves to highlight Mr. Margai’s propensity for undemocratic institutions and processes.

Mr. Margai argues that “it is my view that the above if adopted will eradicate if not minimize:

a) violence and indiscipline at elections

b) corruption at elections

c) that tense atmosphere which normally eclipse elections will no longer be present

d) ethnicity will no longer feature at elections.”

While many Sierra Leoneans and I naturally disagree on policy grounds and principles with Mr. Margai’s proposals as relates to establishment of a “quota system” for representation in parliament; the role of parties in the selection of such members of parliament and the election of the President by the selected members of parliament, I however welcome the debate his article has and is sure to engender.

In addressing Sierra Leone’s democratic dispensation, Mr. Charles F. Margai, the leader of the Peoples Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC), provides not only an insight into his political thinking of how our “democracy” should evolve and progress but must be commended as a harbinger, if nothing else, for his policy and political thought articulation, which all political leaders must be encouraged to emulate by putting forth creative ideas and initiatives on policy issues confronting our motherland.

It is however my considered proposal that several alternative measures designed to change the entrenched practices of political parties campaigning methods and tactics need to be addressed by the National Elections Commission (NEC), the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) and the Parliament. With a slate of PMDC Members of Parliament and in a coalition with the APC, Mr. Margai would be better able to address the central thesis of his article, the eradication of violence in elections, through the legislative and regulatory processes that the NEC and the PPRC can be made to bear on such an issue rather that dragging the country through a referendum.

Specifically, the practice of very large crowds of party supporters parading down streets of major cities and towns, dancing and provoking opponents with incendiary songs must be banned and relegated to the dustbin of our political history. Throughout our electoral history, this practice has only served as the fuse that has lead to violence during elections. There is actually no electoral redeemable value to such public processions and quite frankly very few if any people are swayed by which party or candidate to vote for by such displays.

The tense atmosphere permeating elections that Mr. Margai decries and seeks to eradicate can easily be minimized simply by outlawing the practice of political party rallies on public streets. Political rallies of course can be held in enclosed areas such as stadiums, court barrays and halls and members made to peaceably disperse after such gatherings.

My observations and experiences during the last 2007 elections, where mobs of youths in the employ of political parties consistently used the occasion of political rallies to destroy property and met out violence against their opponents, while under the spell of drugs and alcohol, have only served to reinforce the need to ban public political processions. Large scale political intimidations and violence perpetuated against opponents during the electioneering period were all too common spanning the entire length and breath of the country.

The use of the mass media as the primary vehicle and mode of campaigning in elections must be highlighted and effectively utilized by political parties and candidates in future elections. In this regard the use of radio during the 2007 electioneering period shall serve as a model of how local issues can be addressed through the several community radio stations throughout the country. The once single government owned and managed SLBS no longer has a monopoly on radio transmission and ownership in the country. In fact the limited range of the SLBS during the last elections rendered it virtually ineffective, as for example Radio Wanjie in Pujehun was able to provide coverage specifically to the Pujehun electorate.

The establishment of a national TV would also enhance the visual message that political parties and candidates can effectively communicate without the need for the large public street rallies and hence the atmosphere for violence. It is regrettable that after 47 years of monopoly on television rights by the government SLBS, the country except for Freetown has had no television penetration. Efforts in providing private licenses for television transmission throughout the country must be stepped up not only for its entertainment value but to ensure the sustenance of our fledgling democracy.

Finally, it must be noted that the current system and paradigms underpinning our social, political and economic developmental aspirations have failed and the challenge facing us all is the formulation and expression of alternatives to address policy issues such as violence in the electoral system through the competition of ideas that would forestall the monopoly of barren and unprogressive political thought and practice that has so far been a hallmark of our political discourse. To this end I applaud the efforts exhibited by Mr. Charles Margai in initiating this debate.