By Mabinty Alice Taylor-Bangura
Sierra Leone is a Unitary Republican with a presidential system of government as provided for in the 1991 constitution. The First Past the Post (FPTP) is used for parliamentary and local councils elections (simple majority or plurality) whilst the Two-Round electoral system (TRS or 55% threshold) is used for presidential and Paramount chieftaincy.
The West African nation experience with Western democracy (electoral party pluralism) goes back to 1951, with the formation of true political parties and the holding of the first general elections under the tutelage of the colonial power, Britain. General and local councils elections have since been conducted from 1951 to date. Sierra Leone’s democratic experience had been intermittently halted by military coups and other undemocratic developments i.e the rebel war – 1991-2002. Constitutional developments took place from 1863 until the country gained independence on 27th April 1961 and a Republican status on 19th April 1971. Sierra Leone has declared a one party state in 1978 following a referendum which approved a one party constitution. Another referendum held in August 1991 approved a new constitution which became the 1991 Multi- Party constitution under the leadership of Major General Dr. Joseph SaiduMomoh.
There’s often an assumption that the choice of an electoral system by a government is closely related to the calculations of dominant political parties who select systems that will benefit them in elections rather than systems that will benefit the people. The ruling party in Sierra Leone seeks to secure it’s own position by anticipating the effects of various possible electoral systems on the allocation of parliamentary seats. The SLPP in it’s white paper of the CRC recommended a proportional representation ( PR/ district Bloc system) for parliamentary elections and a 50% +1 for presidential elections. Proportional representation (PR) characterises electoral systems in which divisions in an electorate are reflected proportionately in the elected body. The number of votes from each list determines how many candidates from each political party list are actually elected. Political parties gain seats in parliament in proportion to the number of votes cast for them. This system is used currently in the following countries; Albania, Austria, Thailand, UK (Northern Ireland assembly), Togo, Guinea- Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Tunisia, Turkey etc.
Enshrined in the 1991 constitution is the simple majority or the First Past the Post for parliamentary elections, but the ruling SLPP government wants to shove into our throats a PR system that was abandoned by previous governments after the 2002 elections. During the period the PR system was used, the threshold for a political party to gain a seat in parliament was first 5% minimum valid votes cast. With the amendment of section 38 of the 1991 constitution in 2002, the threshold for a political party to gain a seat in parliament rose to 12.5% of the total votes cast and each district or Bloc had 8 parliamentary seats.
Political parties in 2001 were strongly opposed to the PR system to be used in the 2002 elections. A three days national consultative meeting was held in Freetown from the 13th-15th November 2001 which was organised by the National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights. This consultative meeting brought together more than 22 registered political parties, the government of the Late Alhaji Ahmed TejanKabba, civil society and the RUF. Given the short time left before the elections slated for May 2002, delegates had to accept the PR system because there was not enough time for a First Past the Post elections. The other reasons that led to the acceptance of the PR system was that a national census would have to be conducted, constituencies and boundaries delimitation to be redrawn and refugees and internally displaced people would have to be resettled to their original homes.
Generally, these were extra ordinary times which required extraordinary measures. There was no accurate figures as to the real population size and distribution in the country, some electoral areas could not be reached as a result of the war and immediate post war consequences, thus many administrative actions were taken with decree instruments accepted because of the prevailing circumstances. 2007 elections marked the restoration of complete constitutional rule determined by provisions of the 1991 constitution.
The SLPP are historically recorded to be regular friends on bad laws and system , case study of the 1964 Public Order Act and more. Their intention to reintroduction the PR and Simplier majority is nothing but naked manipulation to secure undeserved seats to replace their failed attempt to do a midterm cesus of gerrymandering nature to densely populate their sparsely populated strongholds.
The PR and Simplier majority lacks logical explanation for a country yearning for cohesion, it must be dropped without delay as this electoral system has numerous disadvantages. Firstly, a PR system will weaken the link between the elected representatives and his/her constituents. It will also lead to the situation wherein voters would have no ability to determine the identity of the people who will represent them, and no identifiable representative for their town, village or district nor would they have the ability to easily reject an individual if they feel they have performed poorly in office. This factor has been particularly criticized in relation to rural-based developing countries where voter identification with their region of residence is considerably stringer than their identification with the political party.
Furtherance to the aforementioned, a PR system will also reduce accountability to voters as an ousted party or government can retain power by finding new coalition partners after an election. These coalition governments may also lead to gridlock and the subsequent inability to carry out coherent policies at a time of most pressing needs.
On a related point, a PR system would leave too much power entrenched within political party headquarters and will be wielded by senior party leadership. A candidate’s position on the party list, and therefore likelihood of success is dependent on currying favor with party bosses whose relationship with the electorates is of secondary importance. Furthermore, the use of a PR system presumes some kind of recognized party structure, since voters are expected to vote for political parties rather than individuals.
Over and above, a PR system often have a barrier to surmount because it is still unfamiliar system to many countries and because some variants are seen as being complex for voters to understand or for the electoral administration to implement. The greater complexity and choice that PR allows can put voters off voting by requiring them to have a greater knowledge of individual and party positions.
Conclusively, majority of the political parties in Sierra Leone have elections for their representatives in their constitutions. Even the All People’s Congress (APC) that had elections/selection in it’s party constitution now has purely elections in it’s reviewed constitution. As a result of the democratization of majority of the political parties constitutions, a PR system is irrelevant. The need for a democratic system wherein the people’s voices matter in choosing their political party representatives across the board i.e, local councils, parliamentary and presidential.