The State of Emergency declared by President Koroma on August 7th 2015 to enable the country continue to combat the threat of Ebola, will expire tomorrow August 28th 2015 unless it is first ratified by at least two-thirds of Parliamentarians. Factually, ruling APC of President Koroma does not have up to two thirds of seats in the Parliament and so some opposition SLPP MPs will have to vote in favour of the extension before it can be ratified. However, the SLPP National Leader, Chief Somano Kapen has come out clearly to warn all his party MPs that they should vote against any State of Emergency in Sierra Leone.
Should the SLPP MPs be recalcitrant as dictated to them by their party and refuse to join the APC to ratify the proclamation, the Head of State can simply declare another fresh State of Emergency and another and another until such time as the Ebola threat is completely over. However, it will be more ideal for a ratification to be done than for persistent back to back proclamations. However, can the SLPP MPs dare to challenge their party? If so, at what cost?
The current 1991 Sierra Leone Constitution was written to give over-riding authority and controlling influence by Political Parties over elected officials who are elected under their party symbol. For example, if a President or a Vice-President is expelled from their party, they automatically can no longer continue in the seats of President or Vice-President as the Constitution says you can only be a President or a Vice-president if you belong to a political party.
Similarly, if an elected Parliamentarian is expelled from his party, he automatically loses his seat in Parliament and fresh elections will have to hold in that Constituency to have a new member of parliament. The particular parts of the Constitution which states how an MP automatically vacates his seat are in Sections 77(1)(K) and (L). They state:
77.(1)(K): A Member of Parliament shall vacate his seat in Parliament if he ceases to be a member of the political party of which he was a member at the time of his election to Parliament and he so informs the Speaker, or the Speaker is so informed by the Leader of that political party.
77.(1)(L): A Member of Parliament shall vacate his seat in Parliament if by his conduct in Parliament by sitting and voting with members of a different party, the Speaker is satisfied after consultation with the Leader of that Member’s party that the Member is no longer a member of the political party under whose symbol he was elected to Parliament.
To show the weight that the Constitution gives to political party influence over nationally elected officials, whilst other grounds for which an MP must vacate his seat (eg: imprisonment or lunacy), can have the MP still holding his seat if he appeals to High Court, in the case of an MP losing his seat because his party kicked him out, he cannot enjoy continued holding of his seat but has to vacate immediately.
The reason why the crafters of the Constitution made political parties to be so powerful was because the emphasis was for a plurality of political parties in a free democratic atmosphere. They did not want Opposition members to jump over to more lucrative ruling parties without a penalty in place to deter such cross-carpeting. So, political parties were given great influence over elected Presidents, Vice-Presidents and Parliamentarians to such an extent that if these officials lose membership in their parties under which they were elected, they lose their seats and offices.
In a recent interview with Awareness Times newspaper, Hon. Paran Tarawally of the Opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) expressed an hesitation to say his mind over whether he agreed with the decision of his party for all SLPP Parliamentarians to vote against ratifying any more State of Emergency in the country. He said he was in fear of Section 77.(1)(k) and (L) being used against him should he say anything contrary.
This is the situation that the SLPP MPs now find themselves. Some might not agree with their party but SLPP Leader Chief Kapen has made it very clear that he will exercise disciplinary measures against any SLPP MP who votes against the party’s line. In essence, if an SLPP MP openly votes against the decision of SLPP leadership, that SLPP MP could forfeit his seat immediately as per law established.
The House of Parliament which was on recess at the time the President proclaimed the fresh State of Emergency, has now been summoned to re-convene today. In today’s session, the MPs will have to vote to ratify or not ratify the State of Emergency. Any SLPP MP who defies the wishes of the party and votes alongside the APC, could be subjected to Section 77(1)(K) and/or Section 77(1)(L) and lose his elected office as a Parliamentarian in the same way the former Vice-President Sam Sumana lost his office after his party expelled him. This is the way the Sierra Leone Constitution was written to ensure Political Parties have controlling influence over the politics of the multi-party democracy of Sierra Leone.
This newspaper will closely follow today’s events in Parliament.
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.