Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sierra Leone Does Not Need a Unity Government.

Last week media reports from Sierra Leone indicated that President Ernest Bai Koroma was not open to the formation of a so called "unity government" which some commentators have been asking for as a solution to bridging the political divide in the small but troubled West African country.
I do not usually agree with President Koroma on issues, but on this particular issue, I totally and completely agree with him, without any reservation. Unity goverments are common in parliamentary democracies where coalitions are needed to form governments and in the majority of cases, they arise strictly out of political necessity. In such instances, the party with the largest percentage of seats in a parliament may not comstitutionally have the required number of seats necessary to form a government and may have to engage other parties to muster enough parliamentary support or seats to form a government.
In the Sierra Leone case however, the All Peoples Congress Party  (APC) has a clear Parliamentary majority and hence there is no pressing or apparent need to form a unity government.
If there had been a run off election for the presidency, APC may have needed the support of a smaller party or parties in the second round of the elections for the party leader to have garnered the necessary votes to become president, as was the case in the 2007 APC-PMDC marriage. However this time round, regardless of whether one considers the results free and fair, President Koroma was announced to have won with over 58% of the votes, giving him the mandate to form a government outright and he also has sufficient votes in parliament to get his ministerial nominees confirmed. Given the prevailing set of circumstances, the president this time round has no need to form a coalition government or government of national unity with anybody or any political party.
As the new APC mouth piece and Ernest Koroma's self appointed new press secretary Sylvia Blyden sarcastically stated in her Awareness Times rag, the opposition party members who won local government positions are already in government and hence according to her convoluted and invariably malicious logic, they cannot claim to not be part of the government. Of course Sylvia as usual is only making this statement for self serving reasons, as an attempt by Ernest Koroma to bring in opposition members will mimimize the chances of post elections APC converts like herself who are now busy heralding their APCness from attaining their not so secret political aspirations. If there is a coalition government, Sylvia and her ilk may be passed over by a president who is exremely gullible to propaganda and sycophancy.
I do not buy the idea of a unity goverment purely for philosophical reasons. I strongly believe unity governments ultimately undermine young democracies and weak parties, perpetuating the status quo. What Sierra Leone needs is an electoral commission that is completely independent of the influence of any governing party and a commission that is capable of conducting completely free and fair elections. Unity governments in nascent democracies like Sierra Leone usually leads to the major party in the coalition undermining the cohesion and viability of its smaller coalition partners. The Peoples Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC) was a major political force in 2007 when it went into a unity arrangement with APC. Forward to today, PMDC is a political vegetable with not a single seat in parliament and has completely disappeared from the political landscape, existing now only in name. APC was able to effectively use the lure of political positions to undermine the loyalty of PMDC members to their leadership, a process that was facilitated by the intolerant nature of the PMDC leader Charles Margai.
In the current case in Sierra Leone any talk of a coalition government between the ruling APC and the main opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) should be discouraged. Though SLPP did not win the presidency, it remains a formidable opposition party in the country and was able to take back almost all the seats won by PMDC in 2007. For a democracy to thrive, there must be a check on the misuse of power by the government. This check can only provided in country like Sierra Leone by the presence of a formidable opposition party like the SLPP. A coalition or government of national unity usually puts the government in bed with the opposition, undermining effective opposition.
Effective opposition creates political competition which is a recipe for development, as it encourages the ruling party to take concrete steps to better the lives of the people, if only to undermine support for the opposition. The lack of effective political opposition created by a unity government in a country like Sierra Leone will have the opposite effect. The opposition will become part of the ruling machinery losing their effectiveness. They may end up becoming mere tools of the ruling party as individuals become corrupted by power.
Some commentators are of the opinion that a unity government will minimize tribalism in Sierra Leone and I respectfully beg to differ, as this view is completely superficial. All Ernest Koroma needs to do to attain regional and tribal balance in his government is to appoint individuals reflecting the diverse nature of ethnic groups in the country. There are APC members from every tribe in Sierra Leone and the President can appoint a purely APC government that is completely representative of the ethnic mix in the country.
The problem with regionalism in politics usually arises when a leader decides to appoint most of his government members from a particular region, just because the party gets most of its votes from that region. Such short term thinking will be popular with those who view politics as a game of tribal and regional domination, but in the long term such actions lead to an erosion of national unity and cohesiveness, leads to the feelimg of national alienation by a sunstantial fraction of the populace, and becomes a recipe for potential future pandemonium and chaos and a solidification of parochial superficiality.
What Sierra Leone needs is not a unity government, but a government that is truly representative of the ethnic diversity with which the country is blessed.

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