The flagbearer of the All Peoples Congress (APC), Samura Kamara has picked Chernoh Bah, leader of the opposition in Parliament as his running mate again for the June presidential election. In other words, the APC’s 2018 presidential ticket remains intact. Unsurprising as this may be to many, there are still a lot of people who imagined a slightly different ticket than the one that lost to Julius Maada Bio. As we are now guaranteed a sequel to 2018, we thought it would be important to critically examine the APC ticket.
At its recent delegates conference, the APC elected Samura Kamara to run again—a move similar to what the SLPP did for Julius Maada Bio, after he lost to Ernest Koroma in 2012. There are a lot of contextual differences that need attention when making this comparison though. In 2018, Julius Maada Bio’s chances were much higher than in 2012 when he ran against incumbent Ernest Bai Koroma. Samura Kamara, whom Bio defeated in 2018, now finds himself in the unenviable position of taking on an incumbent in a political environment that has seen significant changes since the last elections. If previous elections are anything to go by, you may say that ousting a ruling party in the polls is a more likely scenario than defeating an incumbent candidate. In this regard, Samura Karama and the APC have their work cut out for them and in politics, anything is possible. What many find interesting and confusing, however, is the thinking behind his choice of running mate. Or should we say the APC’s choice?
This choice has prompted a debate about what Mr. Bah adds to the ticket. Many expected that if the delegates had returned Samura Kamara as their presidential candidate, he and the party leadership would then try to freshen up the ticket with a different vice-presidential candidate to balance out Samura Kamara who is running for the second time. While the case for the flagbearer could be easily understood, the same may not be said for his vice-presidential candidate. Samura Kamara has been the frontrunner for the ticket over the last five years, with no strong contender. The list of flagbearer candidates was long, but we could all guess which way it would go. It is hard to make the same case for Chernoh Bah whose popularity among the rank and file of the party and the wider electorate remains untested in recent times.
The APC is fielding the same ticket that divided the party and lost an election in 2018. The only difference though is that it seems less controversial this time than it was in the previous election. Well, at least for now. What is the strategy and thinking behind this ticket? We definitely are not the only ones wondering.
There are a few issues that may challenge the Samura-Chernoh APC ticket. First, this is not 2018 and even then, when the APC was the ruling party, this ticket did not earn them a new mandate. Today, it is a ticket that is overly familiar and unexciting, unpromising and unconvincing to those who hoped the APC’s message of change would be demonstrated with change. APC members and supporters may bottle things up and try to look united as they seek to unseat the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP). The reality though is that their choice of running mate is as controversial within the party, as boring among many independents. On a personal level, many have criticised the leader of the opposition in parliament for his malleable and half-hearted approach—barely speaking on critical national issues and looking very much like someone who has been playing safe even as democracy and freedoms are challenged. A member of the opposition commented that Mr. Bah has underutilised the legitimacy and platform he has as leader of the opposition in parliament at a time when the party was locked in a protracted legal war without elected officials. This is a sentiment that is shared within APC circles.
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Samura Kamara’s supporters like to present him as the experienced technocrat with an outstanding track record, bragging about his readiness to lead. That claim is very much open to scrutiny and debate. What many may agree on though is that he is the shy type; not the lively and charismatic person that does politics with flare. So, to create that balance, you would expect a running mate who makes up for Samura Kamara’s weaknesses. Does Chernoh Bah bring charisma, flare and excitement to the ticket? We would not like to take a guess on this, but it is a question worth thinking about.
The argument that the electorates are familiar with the ticket and therefore it would be an easy sell is also as problematic as it is misleading. What is it that the pair have now that they did not have in 2018? They are trying to sell this ticket again without the slightest of changes. As one analyst put it, it shows a lack of imagination and decisiveness. That the APC have not even tried to, at least, put their old wine in a new bottle lends credence to the “lack of imagination” claim. Same product, same packaging. They should be reminded that there is a reason why businesses rebrand products and a presidential ticket is a party’s product in the polls.
We were tempted to stay away from the Fullah and Muslim factors that may have won Chernoh Bah the second spot on the ticket but that would be shying away from our reality and doing a disservice to the topic. Among the many factors that influence such decisions are ethno-regional considerations, as well as religion. The APC vice-presidential candidate’s “Fullah-ness” and “Muslim-hood” might have favoured him as they look to counterbalance the SLPP’s Juldeh Jalloh. Two Fullah, Muslim men–one is a Freetown Bah in opposition and the other, a Port Loko Jalloh with power and probably money. Whatever that brings to the presidential race, these attributes are not earned. Chernoh Bah or Juldeh Jalloh did nothing to become Fullah. No one chooses their ethnicity and region.
The issues raised here are not intended to write off the APC ticket which now makes Or-Samu and Chericoco look like they are locked in a till-death-do-us-part type of arrangement. We would be unfair and naive to do so. Take it as an analytical exercise. The two might go into the polls in June and surprise us all, just like Julius Maada Bio and Juldeh Jalloh did in 2018. The high level of public discontent over the incumbent’s ability to tackle the rising cost of living, curb inflation and put the economy on track could all be a currency for the APC. That said, it is also important to note that the APC so far, have not offered any solid alternatives to enrich the discourse around these issues. For those who may be disappointed by Bio-Juldeh, Samura-Chericoco may not signal hope and change. They are a reminder of the past. The June election is a battle of continuities. Bio and his vice president represent a continuity of the present, while Kamara and Bah represent the past.
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Whatever you are up to this weekend, don’t forget to put your old wine in a new bottle.
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