THE CIRCUS IS COMING FOR THE TRIPARTITE

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by Mahmud Tim Kargbo

Monday, 17th June, 2024

Moments before rioters broke into the Capitol and in some parts of the country last August, Some.APC stakeholders told their colleagues in their party that a unified resistance to reject elections malpractice would “astonish the viewers across the globe to attract the attention of international mediators.”

Rarely are our politicians so honest about their motivations, but long before the monstrous tragicomic scene at the Capitol and various parts of the country in August, it had become evident that two of the national government’s three branches had devolved to little more than a circus show. Radio and television debates, political party headquarters speeches, and daily press briefings are nothing more than performance art designed to “astonish” a narrow, usually partisan audience. Social media and cable talking-heads have made the politicians into megaphones to be used to demonstrate the right set of loyalties, pick the unpatriotic fights, and effectively feign the right kind of outrage.

This is what Osman Yansaneh and the other Samura Mathew Wilson Kamara loyalists were doing after the 2023 General Elections, and we saw just how real and dangerous the consequences of such theater can be.

The third branch has, to be sure, its problems over the last several decades. But the judiciary this time around was evaded to largely avoid the particular alleged elections corruption of the other two branches. Off the cameras, away from social media, and wasn’t tasked with answering questions that mostly bore and baffle the average citizen with respect to the elections malpractice allegations levied by the APC. Judges and justices are the only members of the current national government whose primary role continues to require serious, high-level thought.

Moreover, post-election allegations has so far failed to spectacularly vindicate the judiciary. For months, with no proper campaign message to their voters, the APC boldly and incessantly predicted that the voters would reject Bio, but that the president would stir up to toss out votes and steal the election. His hand-picked Chief Justice, would be the crowning achievement of his presidency, as he would loyally back the SLPP patron and put an end to Sierra Leone self-government.

Bio has, of course, exceeded expectations when it comes to his part in this dystopian fantasy. But the APC later feared the court wouldn’t blink an eye, in upholding the law especially when they understand they have no facts and data to support their alleged elections malpractice case.

This ongoing episode, however, should be a warning that the particular brand of dysfunction afflicting the other branches of government is on its way to the judiciary.

The APC has already been trying to force the Court into the games played by our politicians by suggesting the possibility of court packing. The actions of the APC to bypassed the court and rely on international mediators shows that the APC is more than happy to drag the courts down, too.

The attempt made by Samura Kamara and his allies to evade the judicial fight in the supreme Court was precisely the kind of empty performances that have degraded the other two branches. They never intended to make real legal arguments that would have substantiated their elections malpractice claims. Rather, they designed to communicate messages to a political audience in the hope of controlling the narrative surrounding the election results. As such, they used fantastically flawed statistical projections, data that came from the wrong constituencies, and flatly made-up claims about teenagers or ineligible voters. The people bringing these allegations probably knew no court would take such claims seriously, but the court was not their actual audience. Several weeks after the elections, few APC lawyers offered to “astonish their viewers and listeners” by arguing APC v. SLPP at various radio and television stations. Had arguments ever taken place, they would have showcased their political, not their legal, expertise.

As a sign that the Supreme Court is being integrated into the harebrained narratives that drive the rest of our politics, the APC conspiracy theories against the judiciary started flying immediately after they declined the 2023 Elections result. Though they refused to take their alleged elections malpractice case to the court, sources claimed that they weren’t comfortable with the judiciary. No serious person believes these stories, but unserious people—and those who would manipulate them—are not without considerable influence in our politics. Pundits and public figures on the APC are already presenting the Court as a compromised entity, even if they stop short of the most fanciful stories, and blasted the justices for their disloyalty.

In an age of demagoguery, judges justices and international
mediators who do their job by neutrally applying the law are perfect targets. These are highly educated and credentialed elites whose job is to engage in often-technical questions that most people do not understand. Such a group perfectly fits the needs of the populist impulses that now dominate the APC. Obscure procedural rules presenting what they refer to as “vital data information like pooling station-level results backed by Results Reconciliation Forms (RRF’s)” can easily be presented as mere technicalities—excuses used to cover up their deceit. Judges and international mediators can thereby be presented as part of the swamp’s elite, willing to use their power either to pursue their own agendas, or simply to prevent the deplorable from disrupting their comfortable status quo. Presenting the courts and now the international mediators in this way serves both to create a foil for the people’s tribunes, and to undermine public trust in the rule of law, always a formidable barrier to the ambitions of designing men.

Reliance on an established association of tribal elites is no longer the modus operandi of the All People’s Congress Party. And after all, they’ve just betrayed Samura Kamara and their ordinary members. And lest one hope that the Capitol violence would serve to jolt a sense of dignity and duty back into public servants, some APC still opted to use their votes to feed electoral conspiracy theories after order was restored. As long as it works, the trend will continue.

The courts and the international mediators are several degrees removed from these blustery political winds, and they just proved the APC dire predictions of coup-by-judiciary to be utterly ungrounded. But they are not entirely isolated. So while it seems unlikely that we’ll see APC style screeds reflected in judicial opinions any time soon, the 2023 election fiasco should be a warning: the circus is coming for the tripartite.

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