Gambian people have democratically elected government. What we need now is to implement coalition policies that would advance the country’s democracy, rule of law and economic development. This can be achieved either with or without coalition independent members in the National Assembly. The current political, economic and constitutional reform agenda favors all political parties including APRC because those unconstitutional laws formulated by APRC members during the former regime were designed to favor military dictatorship and its Leadership. There is a shift in the political strategy of APRC that wants to be democratic. This is necessary since the evil dictator is not in the country and does not have political capital and financial freedom to do whatever suits his political needs. This is evidenced by APRC members’ willingness to work with coalition government to repeal the age limit in the constitution.
The formation of the coalition was a political strategy meant to ensure the removal of Military dictatorship. But there was no agreement on how the coalition should contest the National Assembly election. Gambian people must remember that coalition was formed based on compromise, for it was the best strategy at the time . The United Democratic Party ( UDP) has given up its absolute advantage of the party-led coalition and allowed convention which subsequently selected Mr Adama Barrow with overwhelming majority. He became the coalition’s independent flag bearer. UDP’s political capital, pragmatic leadership and democratic values in allowing small political parties to have equal political footing has led to the coalition’s victory. Now that we have independent coalition president, it is time to let political parties to decide what is in their best interest as well as in the best interest of the country. By that we can have vibrant democratic culture and multiple party democracy based on rule of law and participatory democracy.
The split of coalition members on the National Assembly election is because of the following reasons below.
The UDP as a party has been in existence for over 20 years with solid political structure and strategic plans in The Gambia and diaspora. It is the biggest political party with grassroots support in almost all part of the country. The party has suffered more than any political party in the fight to restore democracy and constitutional rule in The Gambia. The party wants to maintain its legacy, political structure and support base throughout the country and in the diaspora . Therefore, it is in the best interest of the party to fill in their National Assembly candidates in the constituencies they will do well in the election. This is the reason why I think UDP wants to go it alone or with tactical alliance . As a pragmatic party , it is in their best interest to maintain their influence and political capital in the next three years during the transition period. Allowing the coalition independent candidates to represent all the constituencies in the National Assembly election will effectively lead to demise of UDP as the biggest political party in the country. We must remember that some of the members of the coalition do not have huge support base or the support base of some small parties are concentrated in one region of the country. The leadership of these small parties do not have much political capital and influence like UDP has at the grassroots. Having coalition independent members in the National Assembly will result to chaos , confusion and disorganization in the National Assembly since there will be no common platform , caucus or leadership for members to follow . Hence coalition independent members will not be answerable to anyone. Every legislative body in any democracy must have leadership structure which formulate , influence and support policies based on the common interest of their political parties or caucus.
I think the reason why small political parties such as PDOIS and PPP in the coalition want to have coalition independent candidates for the National Assembly election is to enhance their political leadership influence, support structure and capital during the transition period. As explained above , we must remember that some of these small opposition parties do not have support base beyond one or two constituencies in the country and their political base/ structure in diaspora is virtually nonexistent. Therefore it is an opportunity for them to build their strategical plans and structures during the transition period so that they can prepare for future presidential and National Assembly elections . Thus they are totally in support of coalition independent candidatures.
There are also independent candidates or private citizens without any affiliation with any political party who are making names for themselves in order to gain political recognition, influence and capital during the transition period. The majority of these people were silenced about human rights violations in the country for the past 22 years. The country’s current democratic environment give them opportunities to build their political base and strategic plans for future elections. Many are political opportunists with new slogans designed to gain support and be recognized. During the course of political impasse, they became prominent with their new slogans. These group of political activists do not align themselves with the political ideology of UDP or any existing political party prior to political impasse.
So what are the consequences of not having coalition independent candidates in National Assembly?
I think there will be minimum consequences that will affect the agenda of President Barrow since all the players in The Gambia’s politics are now embracing democracy and constitutional reforms. Mama Kandeh’s GDC and APRC alliance is a dream that might not work in any time sooner because some APRC members have seen GDC to be responsible for their lost of election. Mama Kandeh’s GDC won only in fula or minority tribes dominated areas in the presidential election. GDC is going to be in competition with NRP in those areas and NRP will have big advantage when we have tactical alliance for its candidates in those areas while UDP might do well in all the constituencies the coalition won in the presidential election. It is in the best interest of GDC to go alone since this is their first ever political contest at the National Assembly level and they are also looking for political structure and support base throughout the country. Some APRC members might maintain their seats in the areas the party won in the presidential election. So there could be a balance National Assembly where we can have legislative debates based on substantive ideas from different political ideology but not from one political perspective whose majority vote on party line . This is good for the country’s democracy. In the case of having overwhelming coalition independent members in the National Assembly, there would be simple majority who will support virtually all agendas of the coalition government whether those agendas are constitutional, better policies or not . We must remember that the number one role of National Assembly members is to serve public interest by ensuring that there is accountability and rule of law in the country. They must also hold executive branch of the government accountable during legislative hearings.
There are concerns expressed in some quarters that there might not be justice for victims of repressive regime when we do not have coalition independent members in the National Assembly. I think such concerns are not factually true because the truth and reconciliation commission will be set up by justice department/ministry. Private citizens can also file criminal complaint against the human rights violators in the former regime. Therefore, I think without coalition independent members we can still have justice for the victims. We can also have majority members in the National Assembly who are affiliated with the coalition government when we have tactical alliance of opposition parties for the National Assembly election.
Politics is a game in which every player has to take account of his or her advantage in order to be successful. I think it is in the best interest of UDP as a party to contest the National Assembly election in areas they will do well based on the reasons outlined above .