A Parliament Without an Opposition: The Democratic Crisis in Sierra Leone Deepens

The Parliament of Sierra Leone/CREDIT: https://www.parliament.gov.sl/
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In a concerning turn of events, the major opposition party in Sierra Leone, the APC (All People’s Congress), has unanimously decided not to participate in the governance structures of the country. This decision comes as a response to alleged irregularities in the electoral process, which the party claims have undermined the democratic principles upon which Sierra Leone’s political system is built.
This decision also comes after the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Sierra Leone and the Carter Center both called on the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL) to publish the results of the 24 June 2023 Presidential Election. At the time of writing, the ECSL has made no effort to respond to this demand, and the government has shown no willingness to respond to growing international and domestic concern.

The strategy of the opposition must be understood in this context, but the absence of a viable opposition in the parliament raises serious concerns about the state of democracy in the country.

Taking a strong position

The APC’s decision to boycott participation has been backed up with disciplinary processes against those who have gone against the party’s decision. This has been most obviously the case with Mohamed Bangura, a prominent APC figure who was sworn in as a member of parliament, in defiance of the rest of his party. Bangura stated that he did this because he had “been elected by his people in Karene district in the north of Sierra Leone to go and serve them in parliament“.

In response, the APC has apparently moved to expel Bangura for “anti-party activities“. The opposition alleges that Bangura violated Article 62(III) of the party’s 2022 constitution. In turn, the APC has argued that this violation warrants expulsion, and that Bangura should lose his seat pursuant to section 77(1)(k) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No 6 of 1991.

The strong APC response to Bangura’s decision is likely to deter others from defying the party line. The consequent absence of a strong opposition in the parliament has serious implications for democracy in Sierra Leone. A robust opposition is essential for a healthy democracy as it serves as a check on the ruling party’s power, fosters accountability, and ensures the representation of diverse voices and opinions. Without a strong opposition, the ruling party may face little to no opposition to its policies, potentially leading to a concentration of power and a decline in democratic principles.

Democracy thrives on the healthy competition of ideas, and the absence of an opposition diminishes the opportunity for constructive debates and alternative policy proposals. It hampers the ability to scrutinize government actions, policy decisions, and hold those in power accountable, ultimately eroding the democratic fabric of the nation.

What next?

The absence of an opposition is particular concerning in the context of the country’s democratic decline because it may empower the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) government to further strengthen its hold on power.

It is therefore essential for the international community, regional bodies, and civil society organizations to closely monitor the situation in Sierra Leone. Their support, guidance, and pressure can play a vital role in ensuring adherence to democratic values and promoting inclusive governance.

Furthermore, the government of Sierra Leone should take immediate steps to address the concerns raised by the opposition party to move back to a system of widespread political participation. Engaging in constructive dialogue, conducting impartial investigations into the alleged irregularities, and implementing necessary electoral reforms can help rebuild trust and foster a more inclusive political environment.

Only through collective efforts and a genuine commitment to democracy can Sierra Leone overcome this setback and progress towards a brighter future.

Paul Kamara (email) is a lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication, University of Makeni and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications, Bachelor of Laws, BL and a Master of Laws. He is a Human rights activist, Media Law expert, a Journalist and an academic.

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