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COMMENTS & OPINIONS  

ELECTION PETITION VERDICT: ďTHE LAW IS AN ASSĒ
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Dec 5, 2013, 17:00
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Charles Dickens was probably not way off the mark when he used the phrase, ďthe law is an assĒ in his 1838 novel, Oliver Twist. Whether we like it or not, we are a country of laws, hence we abide by what we may consider absurd court rulings, and appeal, if we consider it advisable. The expression refers to the application of the law that is contrary to common sense. In Oliver Twist, Mr. Bumble, the unhappy spouse of a domineering wife, is told in court that ď...the law supposes that your wife acts under your directionĒ. ďIf the law supposes that,Ē said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, ďthe law is a assóa idiot. If thatís the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experienceóby experience.Ē

 

To many people the recent ruling in the election petition cases involving constituencies 05 and 15 defy logic. To put things in the laymanís language, two SLPP MPs who were not awarded party symbols to contest the last general elections took the designated party candidates in their respective constituencies and NEC to court with the objective of restraining them from contesting the elections, as according to them they had flouted party and/or national election laws and regulations. The judge ordered an injunction for these candidates not to contest the elections. NEC found it difficult to fully comply, as according to them, ballot papers bearing the candidatesí names had already been printed. Despite attempts made to cross their names out on the ballot paper and last minute radio advisory broadcasts, these proved not to be effective and people voted overwhelmingly for these candidates. According to constituency based reports, the SLPP candidate in Constituency 5 scored some 11,000 votes against the APCís 2,400. In Constituency 15, the SLPP candidate scored some 9,000 to the APCís 4000.

The court ruling finally came some fifteen months after the elections. Though concluding that the cases against the defendants had no merit, the learned Judge, Justice Showers ordered that the SLPP candidatesí votes be nullified and the results of the elections read. This in effect meant that the APC candidates who were a distant second (had the votes been valid) had won the elections with less that 20% of the votes in one constituency and 35% in the other of the total votes cast. The SLPP and several independent observers have been stupefied by this judgment which essentially gives the APC two more seats in Parliament on a legal ďtechnicalityĒ.

 

Let us examine the courses of action closer. If there was time for NEC to carry out the courtís instructions to the full and there was no evidence of the SLPP candidate on the ballot, people would have gone in to vote for the other candidates. It is not inconceivable that voter turnout would have been less than 30 percent and a winner declared. The court case would have ended with the same results as stated by the court. If the petitionersí cases had no merit, what would have happened if the same result had been declared? Would the results have been nullified and a rerun ordered? One sceptic who is no admirer of our justice system has observed that the same result would have been achieved.

 

Hailing from constituency 05 in Kailahun, I can affirm from repeated calls from constituents that they do not understand the rationale behind a ruling that essentially disenfranchises them and sends to Parliament as a representative who belongs to a party they overwhelmingly voted against and who got less than 20 percent of their votes. But then, this is the law and as Mr Bumble said, probably not meant to be understood.

 

There are a few issues of concern with such a ruling. Parliament is a representative institution, which reflects the dictum Ė ďgovernment of the people, by the people for the peopleĒ. The Member, as an elected representative of his constituents, is an agent for the realisation of the aspirations of his people and the nation at large. In this regard, a Member is enjoined to advocate in Parliament¬† concerns of his constituents. Elections enable voters to select leaders and to hold them accountable for their performance in office. Whatever other needs voters may have, participation in an election serves to reinforce their self-esteem and self-respect. This ruling turns this ideal on its head for both constituencies.

 

It is also worth mentioning that one of the causes of our recent civil war was the injustice perpetrated, especially at various levels of our governance system. The TRC report states¬† thus : ďThe judiciary was subordinated to the executive, parliament did little more than Ďrubber-stampí, the civil service became a redundant state machine ........non-state bodies that ought to ensure accountability Ė like media houses or civil society groups Ė were thoroughly co-opted...... Lack of courage on the part of lawyers and judges over the years paved the way for the desecration of the constitution, the perpetuation of injustice and the pillaging of the countryís wealth.Ē Quite an indictment!

 

I do not intend to dwell on the legal ďcorrectnessĒ of such a ruling. I can only point to the advice given in the conclusion of the TRC report: ďAccess to justice can also be achieved through a simplification of legal rules so that they may be understood and used by anyone.Ē Despite the fact that we have a constitution that essentially guarantees representation of the people and we have revamped our electoral laws, to avoid such situations, we have taken a good fifteen months pursuing an electoral case resulting in non representation of constituents in two constituencies.The situation has been further compounded by the order resulting in these constituencies being represented by people for whom less than 20 percent and 35 percent cast their votes.¬† Furthermore we have several normally vociferous groups on other issues who have kept silent on such an important governance issue. One may ask; where is the Body of Christ?, where is the Bar association? where is civil society? Where is the National Commission for Democracy?. I never knew I would say this, but thank you Mohamed Bangura. Kudos also to SLPP that despite our internecine warfare, we seem to be united on fighting this menace. But should the SLPP be left alone to fight this noble cause?

 

The APC has been claiming that the SLPP inflicted this debacle on themselves. ďAfter all the petitioners were ex SLPP MPsĒ, they claim. This may be true. Their case however rings hollow when you consider the following facts 1) The petitioner Ex MP for Constituency 5, Sam May Macarthy¬† has since then joined the APC and had brought three bus loads of his constituents to pledge allegiance to the APC and the President. His house is used as the APC Office in Mobai. It also does not help the situation when the MP openly boasts of his links to the President. 2. His counterpart in constituency 15, Dr Brima Kamanda has been representing Sierra Leone at the Ecowas Parliament as he had done before, because ostensibly this case was unresolved. Ironically since he had stood as an independent candidate, he would have been an MP according to this ruling had he topped the APC candidate in the polls-a situation that would have meant that a man who took his opponent to court on a case that was ruled to be frivolous would become an MP because his opponent, who had done nothing wrong was caught out on a legal technicality that was not of his own making.

 

As a respecter of the law, one can only support an appeal and hope that several parties would be equally enraged about such unfairness. Whatever the law says, we should be mindful of the very reasons that landed us in a war brought about mainly by injustice.One may indeed be justified in saying that Mr Bumble was probably right in observing ďthe law is an assĒ and perhaps its ďeye should be open by experienceĒ-experience of what our country has gone through-experience of the needs of our people to have a say in how they are governed.

 

Ponder my thoughts.


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