As the December presidential election is getting nearer, Gambian opposition parties are renewing push for coalition to end President Yahya Jammeh’s 22 year rule. Initiated by Halifa Sallah of the opposition People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), the move has sparked hopes for change amid huge challenges.

“This is a year of change. It is left to opposition leaders to put their differences aside and together select the best candidate against Jammeh,” National Assembly Minority Leader Samba Jallow told this reporter.

Over these past years, Gambia’s main opposition figures have been putting a lot of efforts to form an united front against the candidate of the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), and due to some key differences, they were not able to make any headway.  Six candidates have already launched their presidential bid among them Halifa Sallah of PDOIS, Mamma Kandeh of Gambia Democratic Change  (GDC), Adama Barrow of the United Democratic Party (UDP), Hamat Bah of the National Reconciliation Party (NRP), Dr. Lamin Bojang and the country’s first female presidential hopeful Dr. Isatou Touray who is standing under an independent ticket.

NRP MP Samba Jallow said there are big chances to bring about change in Gambia, but his only worry is why it is taking too much time for the opposition to reach a deal ahead of the election.

If the ongoing coalition talks continue to draw wide media coverage and public attention, party leaders are still busy seeking ways and means to select a compromise candidate. They also have to make a choice between two big options: backing an independent candidate or opting for a party-led coalition.

Credible sources confided to this reporter that one of the biggest stumbling blocks encountered by party representatives is the issue of holding primaries to choose who among the six candidates would be the best opposition flag bearer.

“With less than 100 days to go to election, holding primaries is not a viable option,” Jallow stated. “All what Gambians need is for party leaders to sit and pick one of them. We are on the ground and know how unpopular the Jammeh regime is.”

Aja Fatoumata Tambajang, executive director of the pro-democracy group Gambia Concerned for Democracy and Human Rights and executive member of West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF) said everyone agrees that there is no single opposition party capable to unseat APRC.

“They accept the reality that they should come together and each of them has made a pronouncement reiterating the need to move towards unity.”

Prior to the coalition talks initiated by Halifa Sallah of PDOIS, Aja Fatoumata Tambajang had engaged in wider consultations with party leaders in order to define the way forward for Gambian opposition. She was not able to make a breakthrough in the negotiations.

While all eyes are directed at the ongoing negotiations, the slow pace of progress accomplished so far has left many people skeptical about the ability of involved parties to bury their differences and seal a deal.

Presidential hopeful Halifa Sallah, who doubles as negotiator in chief, is yet to answer questions as whether or not the talks are on the right track.

In June this year, a forum held atb the margins of the 49th Ordinary Session in Dakar, Senegal, WACSOF raised the alarm over rapid deterioration of rule of law, further erosion of human rights, enforced disappearances, arrests of political party opposition, torture, illegal detention and extra judicial executions, rape and sexual violence against women, as well as wanton abuse of executive power in The Gambia.

The group said that this indicated that the country is presided over by an “undemocratic regime, where impunity and terror are firmly entrenched.”

Gambia is ruled with an iron fist by President Jammeh who seized power in a bloodless 1994 coup. His 22-year rule is being marred by gross human rights violations. He has vowed to vie for a fifth term in office.

Written by Abdoulie JOHN

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