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COMMENTS & OPINIONS  

Section 35 & First Draft of the Constitutional Review Process
By Cornelius Babaogun Deveaux
Mar 2, 2016, 17:10
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The relevance of the proposed new constitution to Sierra Leone’s post war consolidation of democracy and political stability should now take centre stage in public discussions, especially so that the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) has released it abridged draft of the new constitution.

 

The CRC obviously deserves a pat on the back for at least spinning the wheels of constitutional reforms in high gear. As its abridged version begins to attract comments from various sectors of society, it is worthy to note that the content exonerates the APC government of allegation from opposition quarters that the rationale behind a review of the constitution was to make way for the APC to consolidate its hold on power.

 

The All Peoples Congress is yet to make a position statement on the abridged version and as Deputy National Publicity Secretary I of the All Peoples Congress (APC), my take is not a reflection of the party’s position with regards the abridged version.


The CRC in its abridged version is proposing two significant political changes that in my honest opinion will have serious implications on the operations and activities of political parties and will undermine the relevance, spirit and intent of Sections 35 and 42 (1) of the current constitution.


The CRC is proposing that: Local Council Elections should be non-partisan and that Loss of party membership shall not nullify from Office a sitting President or Vice president.


Section 35 of the existing constitution states: “…political parties may be established to participate in shaping the political will of the people, disseminate on political ideas and social and economic programmes of a national character, and to sponsor candidates for presidential, parliamentary and local government elections.” In its abridged version, the CRC is not proposing a change to this section; Rather, the CRC clearly states “no changes”, meaning that the new constitution will continue to give the right to political parties to sponsor candidates for presidential, parliamentary and local government elections.

 

If the CRC is, on the other hand, proposing that local council elections be non-partisan, one wonders the rationale behind the inclusion of such a proposal in the new constitution when there is no change to Section 35.


The CRC must be reminded that prior to the reintroduction of local council elections in 2004, an extensive nationwide consultation agreed that local council election should be partisan as well as non partisan. That is, political parties can sponsor candidates to contest local council elections (Section 35, 1991 Constitution) and non political candidates (independent) can also contest local council elections.


The proposal, if accepted, will not only be in contradiction with another section of the very constitution in the making, but will also exclude political parties from participating in the activities, conduct and composition of an important tier of governance. Therefore there is no need for such a proposal as the current situation makes it possible for both partisan and non partisan contest.


Also, the CRC is proposing that loss of party membership shall not nullify from office a sitting president or vice president. Section 35 (to which no change has been effected) gives political parties the constitutional right to sponsor candidates for presidential elections. Section 42(1) of the existing constitution, which deals with the election of a president, states: “a presidential candidate shall be nominated by a political party.” The abridged version contains no proposal for any change to this provision.


It is therefore illogical and a speck of political mischief for the CRC to propose the input of a new provision in Section 54 that will say: “Loss of party membership shall not nullify from Office a sitting President or Vice president”. Such a new provision will undermine the unity, sense of purpose and cohesiveness of political parties.


The proposal, in my honest opinion, should read: “Loss of party membership shall nullify from Office a sitting President or Vice president”. This will protect political parties from being used by unscrupulous persons as springboard to power, fame and glory. It will further give political parties a firm grip on whosoever becomes a president / vice president and vice versa make the president / vice president principally accountable to the members of the party on whose Manifesto and Ticket he/she was nominated and elected to become President.


In conclusion, I am of the conviction that these two proposals will have very serious implications on Section 35 of the existing constitution and therefore a reason for political parties to come together and find a common platform. It should, however, be incumbent on the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) to initiate a roundtable for political parties to discuss these and many other proposals in the abridged version of the new Constitution that borders on the relevance of Section 35.


©BABA OGUN

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