From political solecism and public cynicism to a lack of internal democracy, Sierra Leone’s leading opposition party, the All Peoples Congress, APC, appears set to hand an easy win to the incumbent President, Julius Maada Bio of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party, SLPP. President Bio who is gunning for a second term in office, was elected in 2018 after a keenly contested poll that saw him edge out the then-candidate of the ruling APC, Samura Kamara.
President Bio, a retired army general, and former military head of state, secured his first term bid as a civilian president after winning 51.81% of the votes in the presidential runoff, ending the rein of the then-ruling APC, which had ruled the country for about a decade.
Analysts have described the prevailing mood in the country today as a replay of 2018. The country is witnessing heightened tension, ethnic and religious bigotry, and growing political rhetoric. However, there appears to be a near absence of coordinated opposition. The country’s major opposition APC `seems to be walking the ruling SLPP to victory, as it appears ill-prepared for the task ahead. For instance, it’s about a month to the elections, and the APC has yet to adequately articulate its strategy for revamping the Sierra Leone economy if elected. The party and its presidential candidate haven’t shown a clear understanding of the country’s problems and how he intends to solve them. This is coupled with the apparent apathy in the party owing to what members describe as the imposition of the presidential candidate and his running mate by the former President and leader of the party, Ernest Bai Koroma. This seeming imposition and highhandedness of the party’s leadership have led to long-drawn infighting and internal division that has plagued the party.
The opposition in Sierra Leone is currently in disarray, which could prove to be a significant advantage for President Bio in the upcoming elections. Since 2018 when the APC lost power to Bio’s Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) in a closely contested election, the party has struggled to regroup and present a united front against the ruling party. The party’s leader, Ernest Bai Koroma, has been accused of interfering in the party’s affairs and promoting his allies to key positions.
The APC also received backlash shortly after concluding its National Delegate Conference in Makeni for sharing over 95% of the available party positions to the Northern region and about 85% of the new executives to members of one tribe in the country. Party faithful and analysts maintained that the party had lost its claim of being a national party.
This internal turmoil has weakened the opposition’s chances of defeating Bio in the upcoming elections. The APC is approaching defeat with no clear strategy or leadership.
The role of optics in political campaigns is often underestimated. However, in today’s age of 24-hour news cycles and social media, optics can make or break a candidate’s chances of winning an election. For the opposition candidate, his visual presentations, including image, messaging, and overall campaign strategy has been abysmal. While his social media banners are often riddled with errors, the designs have been spectacularly poor.
Some analysts have argued that another major defect of the APC candidate, Samura Kamara is his lack of political appeal. This plays a crucial role in any political campaign, as it determines the level of support a candidate can garner from voters. It is the ability of a candidate to connect with voters on an emotional level, and it influences the way people perceive the candidate’s image and message.
One party faithful who prefers not to be quoted stated that, “he generally lacks Emotional Connection, which is a major deciding factor in any election.”
Our sources also maintain that he lacks the requisite image, to inspire hope, mobilize voters and contend with the ruling SLPP candidate. This according to them have made the candidate prone to negative attack.
President Bio’s Achievements
President Bio has made some significant strides in his first term in office. He has launched the Free Quality Education program, which provides free education for all country primary and secondary school students. The program has been widely praised for impacting the country’s education system.
Bio has also launched the New Direction Agenda, which aims to transform the country’s economy and reduce poverty. The agenda focuses on job creation, improving infrastructure, and tackling corruption. The President has also made efforts to attract foreign investment and improve the business environment in the country.
The election needs the opposition.
A healthy opposition is one of the hallmarks of every credible election, and the Bio-led administration knows this much. It has continued promoting policies that provide a level playing field for all players. It is in the interest of the incumbent President that the opposition regroups for the election.
However, beyond the June 24 elections, one of the critical challenges facing the opposition is the need to address the internal divisions and infighting within the APC. The party must put aside its differences and focus on presenting a united front against the ruling party.
Another challenge facing the opposition is presenting a clear and compelling vision for the country’s future. The APC must articulate a concrete plan for improving the country’s economy, reducing poverty, and moving the country forward.
In addition to these challenges, the opposition must also address the issue of voter apathy. In the 2018 elections, voter turnout was only around 60%, indicating a lack of enthusiasm among the electorate. The opposition must work to engage voters and inspire them to participate in the democratic process.
In conclusion, the upcoming elections in Sierra Leone are crucial for the country’s political stability and economic development. While President Bio’s achievements in his first term in office have been significant and widely praised, strong opposition is essential for a healthy democracy. The opposition must address the internal divisions and infighting within the party, present a clear vision for the country’s future, and engage voters to participate in the democratic process.
David Smith is a business analyst, with over 30 years’ experience covering Sub-Saharan Africa, he writes from London, United Kingdom