The ruling SLPP (Sierra Leone People’s Party) is putting into practice the time-honoured notion that an election is not rigged on the day of voting and counting, but from the onset of the elections cycle.
Sometimes rigging tactics begins even before a date for elections was pronounced. Rigging starts as governments start to ride into the sunset.
The ruling party also operationalises Nick Cheesney’s philosophy that despots who conduct elections tend to stay much longer than those who are opposed to elections. The statement is apt and penetrating as aq government could not conduct a sham election and call it an election.
By introducing different rules for the same registration means rigging has already started before voting. It has been reported that tight verification rules have been adopted in the Northwest regions, strongholds of the main opposition, All People’s Congress (APC) while the rules are a bit flexible in the South-East regions, heartlands of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).
Speaking from Northern headquarters of Makeni, a source who asked to be named has told this press that those who go for registration are subjected to strict verification. First-time voters, sources say, who presents their birth certificates to the voter registrars are subjected to thorough scrutiny to discourage them from registering.
Their papers, sometimes, are rejected outright to create unnecessary difficulties. Those whose names are on the list of National Civil Registration Authority (NaCRA), are often referred there for verification when they show up for registration.
It is also seen as a way to discourage those in the North-West regions from registering in large numbers so that they could not outnumber those in the South-East. Those without the patience to submit to stiff procedures might not to go again to the registration booths again to register.
It is however a complete different ball game for the South-East regions where SLPP hoped to get the highest votes in the elections. The rules there, according to s source, are relaxed a bit.
In the Eastern regional headquarters of Kenema, a source also told this press that first- time voters are not subjected to strict rules.
They are registered almost immediately their birth certificates presented to the voter registrars. Residents there also are not referred to NaCRA for strict verification processes. The aim is also to ensure that more people register in that part of the country.
The source also went on to state that those who came out to register are offered material gains to give them more speed to register. Evidence on the ground has shown that the people in Bo and Kenema as well as other districts in the Southeast have shown no move to register owing to what they referred as big disappointment.
About a week ago, a member of parliament, Honourable Bockarie Momoh appealed to the people of the South-East to come out in their numbers and register. He emphasised that no voting takes place without registration.
The law maker went as far as explaining other important uses of the voter ID card which, he said, it was not only about voting but monetary transactions in the banks. The move is to ensure that the people would be convinced to get the valuable card, and the only way out is to register.
The move towards derailing registration and rigging the elections started previously through the deployment of SLPP card carriers and hardliners in SLPP strongholds. Faulty machines were also deployed at registration centres in North-West regions, and centres were opened very late.
Other centres did not start registration at the stipulated date which is September 3, 2022. South-Easterners have a genuine cause to be disappointed with SLPP government.
From 2016 to 2018, a group of young men in the SLPP who have sojourned for some time in the diaspora formed themselves into PAOPA which bore the semblance of a third force planted within the ruling party.
Most of the party elders were lured into the scheme, and took ownership of the process. Key party figures threw their weight behind the young guys after being convinced that it is only they who could take power from the ruling party.
South-easterners also have a genuine cause to support the move since SLPP has never taken power from APC while APC had twice taken power from SLPP. APC defeated SLPP in 1967 in the ballot box, and, retained power not until it was kicked out of power by a group of NPRC (National Provisional Ruling Council) military coupists.
SLPP took governance again through a political manipulation of those at the helm at that time. APC was nearly forgotten in the country when it bounced back to power in 2007.
With such history of APC’s triumphs over SLPP, the old guards quickly mobilised their sons and daughters to support the PAOPA cause. The PAOPA redeemers got much of their support from Kenema, a town where the former President had it hot throughout his tenure.
The people of Kenema would clad in the black attire to mourn for the death of democracy of Sierra Leone during former President Koroma’s visits. To many Sierra Leoneans and observers in the public and the media, it was not a mourning, but a ploy to sabotage development effort, and make the former President unpopular.
Kenema are reaping today what they sowed years back. They were waiting for an SLPP President to develop their community failing to realise that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. It can also suffice to say the demon you know is better than the angel one does not know.
The dream of the young politician however became a reality in March, 2018 when President Bio became President. Hopes were high in the South-East that this time is their time, and their communities would see new life with PAOPA in power.
After four years in governance, most of the streets in Kenema and Bo are still dusty, pipe-borne water absent, energy supply still a big problem, poor health services amid other governance failures. These failures recently forced young men and women especially commercial motorists (Okada riders) into declaring for the APC.
The purported switch of loyalty to the APC did not go down well with the SLPP government. Besides, Kenema have seen several protests in recent times about the high cost of living.
Kenema and Bo cities even took part in the sit-at-home August protest although it is not as violent as it was in the North-West regions. The latest development in the SLPP strongholds has become a source of worry for the ruling party, and the only option is to pacify them this time to register by offering them gifts and relaxing registration rules.
But, it will be no pushover for the SLPP as one cannot fatten a pig on the market day.