MAMUDU: The Biggest Lottery in the Gambia Today, Is the Formation of A Political Party!!!
As Too Many Political Parties Spoil the Political Broth.
Mamudu: The Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) mandate is drafting a People-Centered Constitution for the Third Republic that is committed to reflect the views and aspirations of Gambians. The new constitution that will stand the test of time to the Gambian people should recommend reducing the number of political parties in the country. A record number of 11political parties so far, the highest number ever and an exponential rise of dynamical complexity of political parties before the next general elections is expected.
However, for a nation with a modest population of 1.9 million, it is puzzling that we have so many political parties championing “our interests”. According to the Independent Electoral Commission Chairman Momar Alieu Njie that some political parties and independents has been registered and regarded as “active” under the Electoral law and a number on this list of political parties seem to be surviving only by name and lack any sort of serious leadership or organizational structure.
Meanwhile, several others have merged with larger parties, and should be obsolete. The average Gambian would probably be hard pressed to name even some of these “lesser known” parties or its leaders; yet, they have managed to continue existing on the fringes of society (A. Y Jallow,2017).
Mamudu: I believed the Gambian people don’t need so many political parties, especially when they only exist for selfish reasons. In a lawful sense, this trend is just a demonstration of individual rights. Freedom of association is and should continue to be an important hallmark of democracy. However, we must give some thought to whether an abundance of political parties (especially those formed for selfish reasons) is a positive feature for our electoral politics.
Mamudu: The emergence of many political parties may give the impression of a flourishing multi-party democracy but when these political parties are no better than special purpose vehicles or briefcase parties to promote a personality or to raise funds and launder money. Indeed, there should be cause for concern. But where should the new Constitution and the Electoral Act draw the line?
Mamudu: This question is pertinent in the light of constitutional provisions of section 25 of the 1997 Constitution which guarantee the freedoms of association, assembly, expression and belief, key issues at the heart of the political party formation process. Those who argue that the more political parties we have, the better also often rely on legal arguments where it is held that the right of association is a fundamental human right.
Mamudu: In the 2016 election, there were 10 political parties. In 2019, the number of prospective parties according to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Chairman, Alieu Momar Njie in a press briefings stated “At least 30 requests to form political parties have been received by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)” This is my take on too many periphery -center political cleavages in the country. This can create a logistics nightmare and confused many voters, particularly, the less educated during the election, since paper ballot voting system is set, and considered for replacement that antiquated voting system, using the glass marble voting system.
As the Gambia prepares for a momentous 2021 presidential elections, there can be no doubt that more political parties would emerge. For years, Gambian voters have been asking for a system that provides a paper trail. But is the proliferation of political parties good for our democracy?
Mamudu: The Gambia’s political party system must not be allowed to become a scam, the political equivalent of the notorious 419. Evidenced has shown that the biggest lottery in the Gambia today, is the formation of a political party. The political parties are also fast becoming like churches and mosques. Anybody raise one million dalasi can set up a political party, and use it to raise more funds: you can sell membership cards and tickets to aspiring candidates who need a platform, you can raise funds online, all you need to do is to print a few posters and T shirts and make as much noise as possible. You can even at the last moment, step down and declare support for a richer party, join a coalition or alliance and collect a ransom! This may sound cynical but that is precisely what is going on in the real sector of the Gambia’s political party system. It is unjustifiable and it must not be sustained. Once upon a time in the Gambia, we had political parties that were ideas driven.
Mamudu: In the First Republic, political leaders tried to push ideas. Political leaders were identified with particular ideologies, and visions. Today, many of our political leaders know next to nothing about anything. The naked desperation for power is all that we see on display. This is shameful in a country that produced Edward Francis Small, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, Ibrahima Garba Jahumpa, Sir Pierre Sarr Njie. Where are the visionaries of today? We are unfortunately in the age of Godfathers. Men who fight over positions, and who play God over the fortunes of their compatriots and our country. We are in the season of mediocrity, incompetence, and opportunism. The salaried career politicians and political hustlers have taken over the Gambia.
However, a political party is a creation of law, and it must be remarked that no right is absolute. The Constitution and the Electoral Act refers to political parties registered based on stipulated rules and guidelines, and where those provisions spelt out in the relevant statutes are not met, such parties do not live up to the billing of being regarded as political parties. This much was demonstrated in August 2019 when the IEC Chairman Alieu Momar Njie suspended the NCP
“with immediate effect from participating in all electoral activities in the Gambia as a political party. This development is due to the fact NCP failed to hold one unified party Congress but held two different party Congresses and has announced two party leaders”. The IEC Chairman acting in accordance with section 127 of the elections Act.
Mamudu: People who are suggesting the creation of, yet another periphery political party have no idea what the challenges of this nation are. The solution is not in another political cleavages or parties. What you want to ask is, who will be members? Angels from heaven? As long as they will be Gambians, they will slide into our morass. Its certain. There is nothing wrong with the parties we have, main political parties. Maybe we need to tighten them up in terms of doctrine and create clear distinction between one and the other.
Mamudu: Our principal challenge is within us. Our attitude. Our values, or more like the lack of one. We need a major orientation. An average Gambian for example sees a political party as a meal ticket; is this a party or values issue?
What we are reaping are years of indulgence and bad behavior, when we thought we were being smart and civilized. Today we are all victims of the harvest. You can even see in the past when we had dictatorship. For less than three years they would appear like messiahs but would soon slide into the mess that covers the rest of the nation.
Mamudu: The truth of the matter is that many of the political parties registered were unknown to many Gambians, their political parties in fact were known only by the name of the founder. Most of the political parties were registered before the Election (Amendment) Act,2015 signed by Yahya Jammeh.
Introspection, on July 7, 2015, The Gambia’s legislature passed a bill amending the country’s Elections Act. (Gambia Passes Bill That Increases Deposit for Candidates, Elections Act (Decree No. 78, 1996, as last amended by Act No. 7, 2009).
Mamudu: The Independent Electoral Commission (Amendment) Bill 2015 increases the required deposits that candidates for election must make; candidates for President must pay the equivalent of about US$10,000, while candidates for National Assembly and local offices must pay amounts ranging from $50 to $1,000. This is a 100-fold increase over the previous rates for presidential candidates. The amount for Members of National Assembly is 20 times higher, and the amount for those seeking election as mayors increased by a factor of 10-fold. Under the existing Elections Act, the deposits were to be paid in cash (Elections Act, art. 43 (3)) and were only returned to candidates who were not nominated or who withdrew from candidacy; who participated in a non-contested election; or who attained a certain level of success in their elections, set at 40% of the vote for presidential candidates, 20% for parliamentary candidates, and 15% for those running for mayor or a seat on a local council. (Elections Act, art. 44.) It has been reported that the deposits are completely nonrefundable under the amended law.
Additional provisions put restrictions on political parties, requiring that all executive members of such parties reside in The Gambia, have offices in all the regions of the country, hold bi-annual congresses, and report to the Independent Electoral Commission annually on their finances. The number of signatures needed to register a political party has been increased from 500 to 10,000 registered voters, in addition to the requirement that a party post a bond of GMD500,000 million (about US$12,330). Furthermore, the Commission will be in charge of issuing permits for political events and of spot counting of results at polling stations (Elections Act, Amendment, 2015).
Mamudu: Does the IEC need to have the Constitutional powers to be able to de-register political parties? Or In the new Constitution, will the IEC have the power to deregister political parties on the grounds of violating the Constitution or breaching the undertakings given to it at the time of registration?
Should the IEC be empowered by the Constitution or armed with statutory provision that empower the electoral commission to de-register political parties? Will the new Constitution empowered the IEC to de-register political parties on the following grounds: “(a) a breach of any of the requirements for registration; (b) failure to win at least 25 per cent of votes cast in: (i) in a presidential election; or (ii) one local government of a in municipal election; (c) failure to win at least (i) one ward in the chairmanship election; (ii) one seat in the national Assembly election; or (iii) one seat in the councillorship election..
Mamudu: What remains should the IEC apply the law. But one must add a caveat here: the de-registration of political parties must not end up as an act of vendetta, witch-hunt or intimidation. Any political party that is de-registered on the basis of performance or violation of the law, has every right to re-apply for registration and should the same political party meet the statutory conditions, it should be registered afresh. The rules must be upheld but at the same time, constitutional rights must be respected. Where does that leave Gambians? We are left with the new constitution empower the IEC as the regulatory body doing everything possible to respect the rules and thereby deepen the electoral landscape.
Mamudu: The fact that there are some urgent issues arising in Gambia’s election that will require special attention. The 1997 Constitution is effusive about campaign finances of political parties. The new constitution in tandem with the Election Act must insist on filtering political parties, annual report of finances and political donations but as we know, every election in the Gambia is over-monetized. Those who have the deepest pockets buy the votes and short-change Gambians. The Constitution is very silent about the use of campaign finance and donations and the integrity of the democratic process. President Barrow has one more general election to conduct: the 2021 general elections. He can either turn it into a legacy event, or a source of compounded disgrace. The choice is his to make.