When news broke last week that former UN employee Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella had suspended his flagbearer bid in the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and would be pursuing his presidential ambition in a ‘grand coalition’ that would soon be set up, political pundits viewed it as a sign of further escalation of tension and division within the party.
But a glimmer of hope came a few days later when seven flagbearer aspirants convened a press conference at the SLPP national headquarters on Wallace Johnson Street, Freetown where they reaffirmed their commitment to the party and pledged to work towards bringing it into governance next year.
Among the flagbearer aspirants were Rtd. Brig. Julius Maada Bio, Lawyer Alpha Timbo, Amb. Umaru Bond Wurie, Ing. Francis Lahai, Chief Ernest Ndomahina, Dr. Alie Kabba and Ing. Jonathan Tengbeh, whilst Mr. Mohamed Gassama, who at present out of the country, said he was in solidarity with his colleagues.
It represents a major breakthrough if only there is sincerity on the part of the aforementioned flagbearer aspirants who signed the joint statement titled ‘Standing Together To Affirm Our Common Bond’. “We stand together in the firm conviction that ours is a quest to live up to the ideals of our party and we are steadfast in our commitment to resolve any and all issues through internal dialogue and engagement of stakeholders,” they underscored in the joint statement read out on their behalf by Rtd. Brig. Julius Maada Bio.
It could be recalled that on Valentine’s Day on 14th February this year, all the flagbearer aspirants of the SLPP converged on their national headquarters and deliberated on a wide range of issues in an effort to end the rancor in their rank and file. As a demonstration of their commitment to peace, they all held hands and walked to the Cotton Tree in the heart of the capital accompanied by dozens of their enthusiastic supporters that sang songs and chanted slogans in support of peace. But the celebration was short-lived.
The contentious issue of the disputed 39 constituencies which the aggrieved group wanted re-done became the obstacle to peace. Matters came to a head when the High Court ruling that gave a clean bill of health to the outcome of lower level elections held in the said 39 constituencies was challenged in the Appeals Court. The High Court ruling was subsequently overturned and the Appeals Court ordered re-run of the said 39 constituency executive elections. It is understood that a timetable for the conduct of these elections has been drawn by the party’s second highest decision-making body, NEC (National Executive Council) and they will get underway this week.
The seven flagbearer aspirants coming together to pursue a common objective with the bigger picture (their party) in mind is certainly a step in the right direction that all SLPP partisans yearning for peace and progress in their party have applauded. It sends out the message very strongly that it is not doom and gloom in the SLPP. It is an indication that when push comes to shove, SLPP stakeholders will put their differences aside to accomplish their common goal of being at the helm of governance.
History, they say, has an uncanny way of repeating itself. Prior to the 2007 elections, the APC were enmeshed in similar crises – court case after court case, mudslinging, street fighting, acrimony, appearances at the PPRC. Yet in just three months to the elections when they realized the need to get their acts together, they were able to win the elections that were due.
The SLPP seems to be coming along that same path, bedeviled by bickering and endless court cases, yet there is the strong will on the part of certain influential stakeholders to strategically position the party to form the next government.
The flagbearer aspirants coming together to form a united front ahead of the 2018 elections could have been in direct response to Dr Kandeh Yumkella’s self suspension.
Why SLPP partisans are hopeful that the present peace move will yield dividend is because no one has put forward a specific demand unlike before and all of them have openly pledged to rally behind anyone who emerges victorious at the forthcoming national delegates’ conference. It is the very first time the pledge has been made by a group of flagbearer aspirants since they declared their intentions to run for the coveted position.
SLPP sources say the seven flagbearer aspirants have been regularly meeting to consolidate the unity and design a roadmap for the success of the party since their dramatic union.
The SLPP has been torn apart by internal wrangling for the past six years over leadership. But this will become history very soon if spanner is not thrown into the works of the flagbearer aspirants by someone with ulterior motive. The latest development brings renewed hope to the hundreds of thousands of the party’s distraught supporters, sympathizers and well wishers.