Electoral Politics of the Dual Citizenship Debate in Freetown
By Chernoh Alpha M. Bah
Ernest Bai Koroma and his APC are now fully convinced that they will not win the upcoming elections in a free and fair contest. APC presidential candidate Samura Kamara is extremely unpopular and has failed to electrify the APC base. The divisive and anti-democratic actions of the Koroma regime over the past ten years has led to the proliferation of splinter parties supported by urban youth in Freetown and across the North – areas usually known to be APC strongholds.
These opposition parties will obviously split the potential APC vote. On the other hand, in the traditional SLPP strongholds of the Southern and Eastern parts of the country, there is little possibility of a split vote despite financial inducements and political poaching by the incumbent party. Thus, the greatest casualty in this electoral geometric will be the APC, leaving the SLPP to benefit. This is the most likely outcome of the elections whether one is willing to admit it or not. The fact is the SLPP remains the largest opposition party in the country, both in terms of numbers and its present organizational potential.
By default, the rise of these splinter parties – the National Grand Coalition (NGC), the Coalition for Change (C4C), and the Alliance Democratic Party (ADP), amongst others – have only further tipped the scale in favor of the SLPP. The APC has realized, with barely sixty days to polling-day, that it will be hard to reverse this scale of probable defeat unless an electoral miracle occurs. So how does the APC plan on responding to the near surety that they will lose? They are determined to use legal and institutional frameworks to disenfranchise these opposing splinter parties and keep them from splitting the APC vote. This is not new for the APC; they used undemocratic tactics in the 2012 elections to disenfranchise opponents, a fact that was condemned by international electoral observers. For example, the Ernest Bai Koroma regime used the judiciary and the NEC and PPRC election management bodies to disenfranchise the NDA presidential candidate, Alhaji Wurie Musidal Jalloh from contesting the elections. The NDA had posed the most significant threat to an Ernest Koroma second term, owing largely to the role of the socialists within the ASM/NDA coalition. The APC’s broader rigging of the 2012 elections, in my view, started with this disenfranchisement of the NDA presidential candidate. The APC appears poised to employ similar tactics this year. Thus, disenfranchisement is the only reason the Dual Citizenship law, which has been historically ignored and unenforced, is now on the radar of the desperate APC and its supporters.
Indeed, the APC’s game plan is to exploit this legal loophole to disenfranchise rival political candidates simply because they pose a threat to the APC within its electoral heartlands. The ADP and NGC are, arguably, the most obvious targets. It is reported that the APC has evidence it plans to use against candidates from both parties. For the NGC’s Yumkellah, it is reported that a copy of his foreign passport was used to secure bail for two of his security vigilantes at the CID sometime in 2015. If this is the case and the APC succeeds in disenfranchising these new challenges, the elections will be a direct contest between the SLPP and APC. This supposedly bodes well for the APC, as the electoral register contains more potential APC voters than SLPP voters. Thus, the APC believes it has a greater chance of winning in a one-on-one contest. In other words, desperation and authoritarian tactics are behind the sudden focus on the question of dual citizenship.
We must not allow the APC to utilize this undemocratic tactic. Indeed, democratic forces in the country must realize that incumbent governments have multiple ways of rigging elections outside of just stealing votes. In his study of the complex methods applied by rogue incumbents to steal elections, Andreas Schedler identified “electoral authoritarianism,” the process by which political regimes conduct regular multiparty elections that are not in conformity with democratic principles but are designed simply to entrench authoritarian rule under the guise of democracy. The state manipulation of the electoral process involves such diverse tactics as the development of discriminatory electoral rules, exclusion of opposition parties and candidates, restrictive access to mass media and campaign finance, coercing or corrupting opposition activists into deserting the opposition camp, or simply redistributing votes and seats through electoral fraud. It is a combination of these tactics which undermines the truly democratic spirit of elections and renders them authoritarian.
Therefore, we must understand the APC’s attempt to use legal maneuvering to disenfranchise the NGC and ADP as an established tool used by authoritarian regimes parading as democratic. And this is not an isolated occurrence; as the disenfranchisement of the NDA candidate in 2012 attests, the APC has a clear track record of employing the methods of electoral authoritarianism. Consequently, all supporters of democracy within our country, no matter their political allegiance, must unequivocally condemn attempts by the APC to steal the upcoming elections. We must unite to demand with a singular voice that all registered candidates be allowed to run their campaigns to the end. Democratic forces and the people of Sierra Leone have fought too long and experienced too much hardship to allow the APC to undermine the democratic process. Nothing less than our country’s democracy is at stake. The world will be watching in March, and we must demand that the APC regime not interfere with our free and fair elections.