December 1st is scheduled to be the 5th presidential elections in the Second Republic of the Gambia, since Yahya Jammeh seized power through a military coup in 1994. Unlike many other past elections, in this year’s election the leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP), Lawyer Ousainou Darboe will not feature as he has been unlawfully jailed for 3 years in prison.
However, an interesting scenario has just developed with the advent of Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC) led by Hon Mama Kandeh. Since its public launch, the GDC has attracted a large number of followers, albeit some scepticism about the party and its leadership. However, I believe we need to give the benefit of a doubt and see how GDC will fare in the over saturated political arena in the country.
The reasons for the continual harassment of the UDP by Jammeh and his supporters are because of the party’s appeal and popularity among ordinary voters in The Gambia. And that’s the exact reason the advent of GDC is interesting. The large crowds the GDC commands is a food for thought for Jammeh and due to Jammeh allergy to other people or party’s popularity, the GDC will become the new focus for Jammeh and APRC hence the recent arrest of Tina Fall of one of the prominent members of GDC.
Coalition or No Coalition?
On the other hand, in spite of the popularity of the opposition parties in the Gambia at this moment in time, the million dollar questions are, ‘coalition or no coalition? Election or no election?’ First of all, lets look at the viability of a coalition to take on Yahya Jammeh and the APRC.
To be precise, it’s 103 days before polling day and the modalities of a coalition are far from reached between the opposition parties. Going by the last presidential election results, that is if you are to believe it, Jammeh won over 70 per cent of the votes and yet, it was only the GDC that was not existing as a political party at the time, so for the oppositions to overturn that commanding lead Jammeh was alleged to have had would require as Jammeh would say ‘Jinns and ghost voting’ for the opposition. This is not being pessimistic, but realistic because the time is not there for the math to add up.
Knowing that Gambia is still in the days of filing cabinets ‘more paper, less or no electronic databases’, when will the opposition or the coalition got the time to vet or verify the electoral register and make sure the people registered are indeed qualified to vote in Gambian elections? Or when and where will the coalition get the time to compare and contrast the voter register with that of the census figures to make sure the math adds up? In truth, there is no time.
Elections are won in different ways, but there is no better way to win an election than if you have a corrupt system like we do in the Gambia. Where (should be) Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) heads are hired and fired by the president and answerable to the president. Where the State media are controlled by the president, while private and independent media are non existent for an understandable fear of repercussions. So for me coalition or no coalition, the status quo will remain the same for as long as what Solo Sandeng died for is not achieved, which is ‘Electoral Reforms’.
Electoral reforms are the process of introducing fair electoral systems where they are not in place, or improving the fairness or effectiveness of existing systems. Of course we all know Gambia’s electoral laws are the least fair and are only made to favour the incumbent. Due to the simple majority system in the electoral laws in the country, in my mind a coalition would be futile at this point in time.
Election or No Election?
The second question is, what would it mean to contest or boycott the election? Is it to fulfil a fundamental democratic principle or to legitimise the abhorrent human rights abuses in the country? Of course the answer lies between these two. Elections are a mechanism that helps to democratically elect an individual(s) to a public office(s). So elections are important to the democracy, peace and integrity of a country and to those who participate in it.
Election boycotts are not new and they are used as a form of political protest by electorates where electoral fraud is highly likely, or that the electoral system is biased against a party or parties and or their candidate or candidates. Also an election boycott could happen if or when the body overseeing elections (i.e IEC) is deemed to lack integrity and legitimacy or for opposition parties to protest against the ruling party’s policies.
Given these points, coupled with the draconian electoral laws in the Gambia, boycotting the forthcoming presidential election would be a sensible thing to do. Because for oppositions to participate in the elections, it will only serve to legitimise the dictatorship in the country. However, when electorates do not show on election day, the election will be deemed illegitimate not only by Gambians but the outside world as well.
Notwithstanding, election boycotts can only be successful if all opposition parties are ready to put the country before oneself and agree to de-legitimise Yahya Jamme’s 22 years of dictatorship and economic decadence in the Gambia. Similarly, it’s vital to note that election boycotts without proper strategy in place can prove to be catastrophic to the parties boycotting elections.