Although the party has faced serious instability, chaos – and many would say anarchy, since it lost the 2007 presidential and general elections, there are questions now as to whether the party can seriously recover from what looks like a palace coup – staged yesterday by a group of NEC executives, believed to be supporters and sympathisers of presidential aspirant – Julius Maada Bio.
The suspension of the party leader and chairman – Chief Somano Kapen – in abstentia, also raise doubts about the constitutionality of yesterday’s NEC meeting and the validity of the resolutions passed.
But critics of Chief Somano Kapen say that he has become a lame duck chairman, who has lost the confidence of the majority of members of the party and their supporters. They say he is incompetent and deeply partisan.
What is not in doubt however, is the fact that since his election as party chairman and leader in 2013, Kapen has struggled to assert his authority and maintain order and discipline across the party.
He has become a hostage to fortune to those factions of the party, whose single objective is to further the personal and political agendas of some of those seeking presidential office in 2018.
Yet his supporters, of which there are many, say that Kapen’s difficulty in maintaining order, the rule of law and discipline in the party has little to do with incompetence and lack of leadership skills, but more about the determination of a few disruptive elements whose mission is to make the party ungovernable, so as to topple and have him replaced by a chairman who is pliable and sympathetic to their cause – the Maada Bio presidential candidacy.
But after presiding over a series of deep rooted internecine disputes and Supreme Court battles in the past three years, Kapen’s leadership is far from being described as effective.
He has lost control of his executives and the trust of many of the rank and file members who are now tired of the infighting and lack of party discipline.
So why has Kapen been suspended?
This is how the publicity secretary of the party – Lt. Rtd. Lahai Lawrence Leema, announced yesterday’s resolution to unceremoniously suspend Kapen and others:
“Following the resignation of the elected National Secretary General – Mr. Sulayman Banja Tejansie, the deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alie Badara Kamara, who has been acting in the said capacity since the suspension of Mr. Tejansie, has now been upgraded to the substantive Secretary General, while Lawyer Umaru Napoleon Koroma appointed by the National Executive Council (NEC) as the new SLPP Deputy Secretary General.
“Additionally, the Chairman and Leader of the SLPP and five others have been suspended for acts contrary to the party’s ideals, philosophy and programs of the party, pending investigation by the disciplinary committee of the SLPP.
“NEC therefore resolved that Dr. Alex Prince Harding – the Deputy National Chairman and Leader of the SLPP be acting as the National Chairman & leader, until the substantive chairman and Leader Chief Kapen faces the disciplinary committee of the SLPP to answer questions for flouting provisions of the SLPP 1995 Constitution as amended, which thereby brought the image of the party into disrepute and public ridicule.”
Whilst Kapen may no doubt be seen as an affable and friendly chap with whom many would have a pleasant and intelligent discourse, it seems his affable personality may have become his greatest weakness.
The SLPP is a highly diverse and complex political party to manage.
And with this diversity and complexity, comes the challenge for any leader to be able to instill discipline, enforce party rules without fear or favour; and more importantly, to set aside minority and personal objectives, in favour of party interests.
Has Kapen shown strong leadership, clear direction, non-partisanship and assertiveness, in the face of the huge challenges and complexity, posed by the vociferous and sometimes violent and disruptive behaviour of those factions, whose respective short term interest is about ensuring that their aspirant for the 2018 presidential election wins the party’s flag-bearer race?
But irrespective of Kapen’s short comings, do the party rules allow for the suspension of the NEC chairman by his fellow NEC officers?
Can they decide to suspend him at an NEC meeting that was believed to have been irregularly convened and not quorate? Was the motion to suspend on the agenda of yesterday’s meeting?
Was the chairman present at the meeting? Was he aware of the motion to suspend prior to the meeting?
If the answer to these questions is no, then yesterday’s NEC decision to suspend Chief Kapen will be seen as a palace coup.
One of the executives at the meeting sent the following running commentary as the NEC meeting was in seating yesterday: “Chief Kapen, Chairman and Leader of the SLPP has been suspended alongside Victor Sheriff.
“Dr Prince Harding is now the Acting National Chairman and Leader of the SLPP. The mandate of NEC has been extended till after Convention that’s to take place on February 24, 25 and 26th 2017, in Kenema.
“All Lower Level Executive Elections have just been ratified by NEC. Dr Abass Bundu is reading the rules and regulations for the position of presidential nominees. Le120,000,000 as candidature fees has just been agreed by NEC .
“NEC meeting is in progress. Nominations have just been made. We are going to take a vote on them. We have just filled the vacant position of Secretary General. Ambassador Allie Badara is now the new SG.
“NEC life span has been extended to February 28, 2016. The Convention date is 24, 25 and 26 February 2016. The Elections for the National Executive and that of the flagbearer shall be done concurrently.
“The 24 25 26 February 2017 agreed date for the next delegate and flag bearer conference. The Venue is Kenema.”
But condemnation of yesterday’s meeting has been swift and passionate. A senior member of the SLPP told the Sierra Leone Telegraph: “They (NEC) went against all the rules and regulations you could think about in this world to get to where they are. The NEC meeting was called without Kapen’s consent. This is not legal under the SLPP constitution. That means the Maada Bio group held a meeting that is unconstitutional.”
According to some supporters of Kapen; “The rules and regulations agreed by the country’s Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) as gazetted and later amended, were flouted by the Maada Bio supporters on the NEC – popularly referred to as ‘Paopas’ (by any means necessary).
“Instead of the delegates list authentication to be done concurrently by the Constituency Chairmen, District Chairmen, etc, all was done by the Regional Chairmen. This was completely wrong.
“In principle the Regional Chairmen are responsible for the mess the Party is in at the moment. Even when a court injunction was in place during the past days, they proceeded to hold the district and regional elections at secret locations.
“If SLPP is behaving in such undemocratic manner, how are we expected to oppose APC if they do likewise. More, importantly SLPP may field a candidate as Flagbearer that was not elected in accordance with the Constitution, hence risking the possibility of nullification at the 2018 general election by APC.”
Other comments from SLPP members
“SLPP has today been finally laid into its grave. May its soul return to its founders.”
“SLPP is imploding and no one seems to have authority over the Paopas. This is Sad.”
“Instead of a party convention next year, it will be a coronation of Julius Maada Bio.”
“The Paopa faction continues to hold the party to ransom. The rest of the flagbearer candidates and non-Paopa membership have some serious decisions to make.”
“Yesterday’s resolution gives certain faction ascendancy in SLPP affairs. And this group will not put the party’s best interest above all else.”
“The party now stands at cross roads…some hard counter measures need to be decided on by genuine stakeholders and not charlatans and political hacks.”
Speaking to the Sierra Leone Telegraph last night about what the party must do now to save itself, Jonathan Tengbe (Photo) who is one of the contenders for the party’s presidential candidacy, said: “The flagbearer election must be organised by a new national executive. What they have put forward is not in the interest of democracy in Sierra Leone and Unity in the Party.
“Any flagbearer resulting from such arrangement will not be supported by a huge proportion of the SLPP membership and SLPP will risk losing the national elections in 2018.”
“My suggestion is to re-do all disputed constituency, district and regional elections, following which we should convene another NEC meeting to discuss a date for the National Executive elections and later a flagbearer election.”
Yesterday’s event at the NEC meeting of Sierra Leone’s main opposition SLPP party may seem like the end of what many regard as a grand old party with high ideals. And in the words of a party supporter: “I think NEC has just managed to tip the party overboard yesterday. We wait and see what unfolds.”
But it is important to put into context, what is happening in the party as symptomatic of the current state of the country’s national politics.
Democracy, and law and order in Sierra Leone are still in a state of flux. These are the building blocks of a stable, progressive and inclusive society.
But, until they are fully adopted and domesticated across all political parties in the country, Sierra Leone will continue to be governed by charlatans.
Most people aspiring for political office regard politics as perhaps their only opportunity to access or gain power to further their personal interests, or to become rich.
Sierra Leone is one of the poorest nations in the world, yet few are entering politics or seeking political leadership out of altruism and the need to serve their fellow humans. Far too many in the opposition SLPP have lost sight of what is really important in politics.
And this is true also of the ruling APC party, whose battle for its heart and soul – especially their party presidential candidacy for the 2018 elections, will soon commence. And when it does – there will be blood on the carpet.