David Y. Worry
The Parliament of Sierra Leone as we know it today is a constituency-based house of representatives with a total number of 146 MPs including the 132 elected through the first-past-the-post electoral system and 14 Paramount Chiefs representing each of the fourteen districts. Proportional Representation National List (PRNL) system had its legal basis in the repealed Act No. 16 of 1995 and Act No 2 of 1996; in which the entire country was regarded as a national constituency. The distinguishing feature of this system was that political parties submitted ranked lists of parliamentary candidates to the electors/voters, who voted for a party list and not for individual candidates contained in each list. Each party then received seats in proportion to its overall share of the national votes. For a political party to gain a seat (in the then Parliament), it should obtain a minimum number of votes equivalent to 5% (i.e. the electoral threshold), below which no party will be eligible to share the allocation of parliamentary seats. Moving forward, Section 38 of The 1991 Constitution, which mandates the use of the constituency system, was amended in 2002 to add the option for a District Block Representation System (DBRS). It was based on the country’s 14 districts (12 in the provinces and 2 in the Western Area); with each district considered to be a constituency. Political parties contested for a block of 8 seats in each district. Seats were allocated based on each party’s proportional share of the total district votes. The threshold for gaining seat(s) in parliament was 12.5% of total valid votes cast, below which, political parties will not be eligible to win a seat(s) in parliament.
The Parliament that emerged from the 2007 general elections saw the first litmus test of the spirit and intent of the 1991 Constitution (Act No.6 of 1991). Section 38 (1) and (2) of the 1991 Constitution explicitly provides for a delimitation of electoral boundaries into constituencies to elect the Members of Parliament. Every constituency was made to return one Member of Parliament. The 2007 elections thus registered the reintroduction of the constituency electoral system that was interrupted by the exigencies of war between 1991 and 2002. Since the inception of the constituency-based elections from 2007 to 2018 Sierra Leone has been widely acclaimed as having been historical and significant in several senses, including our conduct along the lines of the first-past-the post-electoral system. Meanwhile, the Report of the Review of the 2017 Government White Paper on the Constitution of Sierra Leone 1991 (Act No. 6 of 1991) accepted the reintroduction of Proportional Representation. The White Paper recommends that: “Members of Parliament shall be elected following the system of proportional representation and the threshold shall be 30% of the popular votes.” Unlike the current peaceful atmosphere, the war period experienced grave difficulty in accessing most areas of the country by the National Electoral Commission, which invariably led to the complete lack of reliable population figures for the demarcation of constituencies. It stands to reason therefore that this system can be used only when constituencies have not been demarcated as provided for in the Constitution. The President then was obliged (after consulting with the National Electoral Commission) to direct the use of the District Block Representative system under the law.
It was thus for the *lack of reliable census data* the government resorted to the use of both the Proportional Representatives National List and District Block Representative systems for the 1996 and 2002 elections, respectively. The Bio led regime this time round has vaguely agreed in the White Paper that Members of Parliament be elected in accordance with the system of proportional representation citing: “bye-elections to have been a great cost to the economy, peace and security of the nation.” It is also worth citing that the predecessor of the Bio led regime had used the constituency-based system effectively and successfully which was more widely acclaimed than ever before in the history of Sierra Leone, such that both local and international democratic partners and institutions have classified Sierra Leone to be amongst the most peaceful and credible in the conduct of electoral Processes in modern times. The sudden diversion by the Bio led the regime to re-adopt an electoral system, which the country had painstakingly tested in 1996 and 2002 and departed from leaves, much to be desired.
However, noting the new direction’s attempt to artificially fatten their electoral legitimacy, the country has witnessed several desperate attempts to undo the people’s voice through their representatives in Parliament. Noting that the Census Statutory Instrument, which the SLPP had wanted to use to conduct a premature census to demarcate the country was neither properly laid in Parliament nor the entire process adhering to relevant procedures enshrined in our 1991 Constitution; the entire process was poorly planned and unprofessionally executed thereby leading to not only the World Bank withdrawing both funding and technical support to the said census but saw opposition political parties including the APC strongly challenging its legality. The reaction of these important players leaves a clear testament that the census outcome is an exercise in futility. It is this failed outcome of the census that many political observers and analysts believe that the SLPP would shamefacedly use as an excuse for the lack of reliable data to call for a PR System. Nonetheless, the lack of reliable population figures for the demarcation of constituencies using the defunct midterm census is thus becoming the unexplained reason for wanting to use the Proportional Representative National List (PRNL) or District Block Representation (DBR) systems in the 2023 General elections.
But it must be made very clear that present-day Sierra Leone has very credible national population and housing census data of 2015 and any attempt to use the failed midterm census data as an excuse to call for a PR system will be yet another exercise in futility. It remains to be seen if the ruling SLPP government in Sierra Leone will now pay attention to their style of governance the majority of Sierra Leoneans say the light in the tunnel is getting darker and darker since President Bio assumed power in 2018; President Bio would have had no reason to use peace and security as a basis for calling for a PR System. The people would need the same constituency-based representative system to continue as previous governments had used so effectively and peacefully over the decades. Rather than introduce a representative system in which the people’s representatives would appear far remote from the local constituency and owe their allegiance more to the central party authority than to the local electorate, President Bio should stop shying away from those leadership skills that, his predecessor, Dr Ernest Bai Koroma employed in peacefully unifying the people for two consecutive terms. He should avoid using the PR as the only instrument that will help to reduce political tensions and strengthen peacebuilding.