By Kelfala M. Kallon……………………………..
The recent debate in Parliament on whether the National Electoral Commission (NEC) should continue with voter registration ahead of constituency delimitation has reminded me of a recent incident I had with a student. He informed me that he had been unable to complete an online assignment because of a computer glitch. Upon investigation, I realized that the student had started the assignment, which was due at 11:59 PM Sunday, at 11:58 pm that night. Consequently, the computer automatically submitted it for him a minute later, as it was programmed to do. I told him because that there had been no computer glitch, I would not give him “more time” to complete the assignment. He responded that because the deadline was artificial, it should not be carved in stone since my goal should not be about his time keeping ability, but about his understanding of the material. When that argument did not work, he appealed to my sense of compassion by telling me that he needed to pass the course with at least a B-grade in order to continue to receive federal financial aid. Needless to say, I refused his request and ended the conversation by telling him that, to me, his procrastination does not constitute an emergency.
Like the student above, Ernest Koroma must definitely believe that the two-term limit on the Presidency is an artificial deadline which should be extended for any reasonhe and his supporters deem fit, including but not limited to his unpreparedness for the Ebola scourge and, now, his negligence and procrastination in preparing the country for presidential and parliamentary elections—the latter, ostensibly, in the interest of his “More Time” agenda. And, of course, to discourage Sierra Leoneans from registering to vote—so that a large number of us may not pass a fitting verdict on his thinly-disguised “get rich quickly” scheme that has masqueraded as governance throughout his presidency, Ernest and his APC controlled Parliament coupled voter registration with civic registration. Consequently, would-be registrants are asked a plethora of silly questions that have no relevance to the issue of whether they are Sierra Leoneans who have attained the age of 18 years, which are the only requirements for the franchise.In fact some of the questions—such as whether one was born at night or during daytime have no relevance to even the civic registration exercise.
Obviously after running the country as a business (Koroma, Incorporated, to be exact),Ernest and his henchmenare the beneficiaries of his Agenda for Prosperity. Most Sierra Leoneans, meanwhile, have become victims of his Agenda for Austerity. As such, the average Sierra Leonean has been consigned to a “hand-to-mot” misery that Koroma, Incorporated has wrought on the country. For most of them, therefore, standing in line for hours, just to register to vote, means an inability to earn “chop money” for the next day. Consequently, they are reluctant to sacrifice their families’ survival for civic participation.
Ernest Koroma knew all along that the Constitution requires us to have elections every 5 years. Therefore, his refusal to fulfillthat requirement in a timely manner (just when he is ineligible to contest again for the presidency) can be rightly seen as a not-so-bright attempt by him and his caboodle to extend his presidency beyond the constitutionally-mandated time. Otherwise, just like Ahmed Tejan-Kabbah in 2002 and again in 2007, Ernest Koroma would have performed his duty to ensure that everything gets done so that we go through a peaceful democratic transfer of power within the constitutionally-mandated period. Accordingly, he would have announced the election calendar early enough to ensure that voter registration and constituency delimitation are completed in time for all eligible Sierra Leoneans to participate in thismost sacred of democratic rituals.
In a representative democracy, governments are periodically evaluated by voters in order to either reward them with “more time” for a job well done or send them packing for failing to live up to their expectations. It is therefore disingenuous for a government to claim that its failure to perform its most basic duties (such as protecting the lives and safety of the citizenry or adequately preparing forthe country’s democratic rituals) should constitute a national emergency for which they deserve more time. On the contrary, like my student who failed to perform his assigned duties on time, Ernest Koroma’s failure to adequately prepare for both the Ebola epidemic and the March 7, 2018 elections should be viewed by the public as part of the record on which this APC (“get rich quickly”) mafia’s fitness to continue to run the affairs of this country beyond March 7, 2017 should be judged. Unquestionably, however, rewarding such incompetence with “more time” goes against the logic of democracy.
We must remember that Sierra Leoneans are so invested in democratic governance that we have bent over backwards several times to ensure that elections are held on time. We defied Foday Sankoh and held elections in 1996, during wartime—even as the RUF rebels chopped off the hands of our compatriots in retaliation for that defiance. When it became clear that a new constitution would not be ready before those elections, we bent over backwards again and agreed to go to the polls under the 1991 Constitution, which has seen us through two peaceful transfers of power (from Bio to Tejan-Kabbah and from Tejan-Kabbah to Ernest Koroma). More importantly, the Republic was made no worse off because we did not postpone elections in view of the war. On the contrary, many will agree that holding those elections and giving President Kabbah the mandate to negotiate on our behalf speeded up the resolution of the war, which was good for the Republic. And when we did not have time for boundary delimitations, we did not use it as a smokescreen to postpone elections. Instead, we agreed to hold them under a system of proportional representation. Again, the Republic did not crumble. Simply put, therefore, just as the Republic did not crumble when we made those adjustments in order to empower the citizenry of this country to exercise their democratic rights, it will certainly not crumble this time if we were to hold elections with the current constituencies and the current constitution if necessary. In short, no “More-Time”-induced “emergency” should derail the ongoing voter registration process and/or change the election timetable. In this regard, it is gratifying that Parliament for once hadenough sense to not cause chaos in this country by attempting to interrupt voter registration in order to further Ernest Koroma’s “More Time” agenda.
Moreover, there is no rational reason why constituency delimitation should precede voter registration. On the contrary, one can rationally argue that voter registration should lead, not follow, boundary delimitation as a check on census fraud. This is because, except for short-term shocks, the population growsat a constant rate in the long run. That rate is equal tothe sum of thenatural population growth rate (the difference between the birth and death rates) and the net migration rate (the difference between the rates of emigration and immigration). Therefore, if the population grows at 2 percent per year, for example, the number of voters should also increase at that rate because 2 percent more people will attain the age of 18 each year. Thus, any discrepancy between the growth rates of registered voters and the population in a region should raise red flags about census fraud.
Clearly, the recent censusstands this basic fact on its head when it shows a higher rate of population growth in the North (the APC heartland) than the Southeast (the SLPP heartland). Specifically, Census Sierra Leone produced no credible evidence to the effect that the natural rate of population growth is higher in the North than in the South/East. And from time immemorial, the South/East has always experienced a positive net migration from the North. Moreover, it is an open and embarrassing secret that many Northerners who were displaced by the war came to the Western Area and never returned. Therefore, that the North’s population miraculously rose relative to the Southern and Eastern provinces in spite of this huge net migration of Northerners (to both the Western Area and the Southeast) defies demographic logic and can be explained by only the fact that the APC had committed massive census fraud by double-counting folks of Northern origin in the Western Area in both the Western Area and the Northern Province.
In public policy, there are sometimes unintended consequences. In the current case, the APC’s desire for voter suppression caused Parliament (which they control) to couple voter registration with civic registration without providing adequate time and resources for both to go on simultaneously. This has caused voter registration to slow down, thereby creating a disincentive for people to register to vote nationally and more so in the APC strongholds. This is making it incredibly difficult for the APC to double register people of northern origin in both the Western Area and the Northern Province. It is therefore not surprising that videos are now circulating of APC politicians like Kemoh Sesay being so panicked that they are reportedly offering million-Leones bribes to people to register to vote in their constituencies. And I will not be surprised at a crescendo of APC politicians calling for an extension of the voter registration period in order to afford them “more time” to rig the election almost a year before the first ballot is cast.
In a democracy, the government has a duty to empower all its eligible citizens to participate in the political process. However, the current coupling of voter and civic registration is slowing down the process such that there is a real danger that many Sierra Leoneans who cannot afford to stand in line for hours just to register will be disenfranchised. Because civic registration is not a constitutional mandate of NEC, it needs to be uncoupled from voter registration in order to speed up the process. As in the past, the NEC should be limited to gathering only information that would enable them to ascertain that a potential registrant is eligible to vote in the March 7. And if history is anything to go by, we might go through all the trouble of registering and be told (as in 2012) that we do not even need the darn voter registration cards to prove our eligibility to vote on election day, thereby giving the APC carte blanche to transport ghost voters from constituency to constituency on election day.
At the People’s Hour on Radio Democracy last week, I proposed that the registration period be extended to allow all eligible voters to register. That was before I knew how such an extension would enable the APC to engage in cross-regional double-registration of voters in the Northern Province and the Western Area. Therefore, like Lord Keynes said in a response to a criticism that he changed his mind too often, I, too, am prepared to admit that “When logic and facts prove to me that I am wrong, I change my mind”. However, given their APC DNA and their control of Parliament, it will be a miracle if they do not extend the registration period to further their rigging preparations.
Finally, I have consistently said that APC strategists operate on the assumption that Sierra Leoneans are so stupid and gullible that we can be easily manipulated by their propaganda. We should therefore expect them to continue to attempt to effect Ernest Koroma’s “More Time” agenda by muddying the process with irrelevant issues. For example, very soon, they may tell us that we need to postpone the elections so that a new constitution can be ratified. To show them that their underlying assumption that we are a stupid and gullible people is wrong, we should perhaps all now become “Paopas” and shout the following “Paopa slogans loudly and clearly throughout the land:
- “Paopa”, voter registration for continue!
- “Paopa”, elections for be March 7, 2018!
- “Paopa”, all man for show voter registration card befoe den vote!
- “Paopa”, Ernest for go in March 2018!