Until a few months ago there was only one issue dominating the SLPP discourse: who will lead the party into the 2018 elections. But that question is somewhat moot right now, as the former military junta leader – Julius Maada Bio apart, who contested and lost the 2012 presidential election appears to be enjoying the full support of the rank and file members and executive committee of the party.
Maada Bio is expected to be elected flagbearer of the SLPP, perhaps not so much because of his leadership skills and ability to galvanise and govern the whole country, but because over 70% of the party membership are from his tribal southern region, his critics argue.
But is this enough to take SLPP to State House and assume full control of parliament in 2018?
The fact is that no political party can win national elections in Sierra Leone, without winning more than 30% of votes outside of their political heartland.
In 2012 Maada Bio and his SLPP party were unable to achieve this. Over 70% of the overall 37% votes polled by SLPP nationally in 2012, came from their southern heartland – not a single seat won in the electorally critical constituencies of Freetown and Kono.
In 2018, the SLPP are hoping that their northern based grand patrons of the party, such as Alie Kabba, Alpha Timbo, Bond Wurie and Abass Bundu, will help deliver the 20% of northern votes that could take the party to State House and parliament next year.
But political arithmetic and logic are not as simple as that. Maada Bio may be popular in the South, but deeply resented in the north of the country, where many are refusing to forgive him for leading a military regime that executed dozens of civilians, military and police officers, in what has been described as ‘extra-judicial killing’.
Furthermore, many in the north of Sierra Leone and elsewhere, regard the SLPP as a ‘Mende-man party’, an image the party bosses are struggling to cleanse.
So, how the SLPP party conducts its affairs between now and its national convention in September, will determine the extent to which it has succeed in metamorphosing into a truly national party.
And northerners are looking for evidence of tribal integration. They say it is time for a northerner to lead the SLPP party – a wish the SLPP has not fulfilled in its sixty years of existence.
The ruling APC has not fared any better. They too are yet to be led by a southerner. Perhaps the election of Victor Foh to lead the APC into the 2018 elections may break that old, traditional and tribalistic spell.