What Options Are Available?
A statement recently released by six opposition parties reveals that the parties have been in talks with each other about their long sought electoral reforms and “to take stock of all constitutional, legal, procedural and administrative challenges confronting the electoral system” since the 11th of May 2015.
What they called their proposals and demands, included among other things, the removal of residential requirements for suffrage and rights of overseas Gambians to vote; general voter registration a year before each election; demand the establishment of a Constituency Boundaries Commission Act for protection against gerrymandering, or manipulation of size constituencies for electoral gains. Another proposal was the call for a revisit of the late Bishop Telewa Johnson’s proposed constituency architecture. The parties moaned over the past dismissal of over three IEC chairmen by the executives before the expirations of their respective seven-year terms. They also demanded that all appointments to the IEC be gazette “for security of tenure.” The parties also agreed among themselves to propose that the number of IEC commissioners be increased to seven, excluding the chairman. Each of these commissioners would be responsible for one of the country’s administrative regions. The parties went on to propose making it mandatory for members of the Independent Electoral Commission to be drawn from Tango, an umbrella body of NGOS, the Bar Association, the Christian Council, the Supreme Islamic Council ,the Gambia Teachers Union, National Youth Council, “as long as they function as non-partisan segments.” The parties also proposed that selection of IEC membership should be done with gender-sensitive considerations.
On what they considered a protection of absolute majority, the parties agreed to call for a “Re- enactment of the previous version on absolute majority of 50% of votes cast.”
On “Protection from fraudulent registration” the parties agreed to call for registration to be based on freely distributed mandatory ID-cards not attestation.”
They also called for the registration to be allowed to be monitored by two from each party and for street names, compound numbers, kabilo names be included on registers.
The parties went further to demand that public servants be excluded from partisan matters, political inclination not be allowed to interfere with the discharge of duty, and not be allowed to be members of any association that may hinder future or previous impartiality or interfere with the impartial discharge of duties.
Also said by the parties was that , “All parties to refrain from undue influence or use of any arm of government for political purposes,” and “from using civil servants, members of disciplined forces, traditional rulers, public facilities and funds for campaign purposes.”
The parties also agreed to jointly to demand that “heads of civil services be divorced from cabinet posts and that “no circular be issued to public servants by department heads requesting them to participate in any matter with partisan objectives.”
The parties added that, “All public elections and all referenda shall be by secrete ballot.” Then they followed this immediately with a demand that “Ballot marbles be replaced with ballot papers,” and that “All state-owned media outlets to afford fair opportunities and facilities in the presentation of divergent views.”
In the statement the six parties wrote: Since all parties are required to prepare manifestoes, we demand that all parties are periodically given access to the state media to explain the content of their manifestoes and debate on them. The opposition proposes the adoption of a campaign period of three months duration to enable the voters to be well informed and create a level ground before elections.”
This part of the statement indicates that the opposition parties were already aware of government’s plan to introduce a bill changing some significant portions of the laws governing political elections in The Gambia, since new bill seeks, among other things, to makes it mandatory for all parties to issue out a manifesto. This make us to wonder if the set of proposals and demands is actually not an original initiative of the political opposition, but as usual a reaction to an initiative of the Jammeh regime. If so, this then begs the question, what was the purpose of its issuance? Was it a presentation of an electoral policy option to the government bill or was it a laying out the contours of a desirable future opposition alliance? The opposition talks among themselves was said to have started on the 11th May 2015. This must have been done under an air of discretion as we are not aware of any mention of it in the local press or the on-line publications. And though the opposition statement was said to have been issued on 17th June 2015 by the : GMC GPDP NRP PDOIS, PPP and UDP, before the June 1st gazette publication of the bill, it made no mention of it much less denouncing it. This is indeed a cause for wonderment to any political observer of the current Gambian scene, keeping in mind that the opposition statement itself was not published till about three weeks later on the 7th July, on the Point local newspaper, the day on which a slightly watered down version of it was passed in the National Assembly? Was the delay caused by inner wrangling of party leaders over its formulation or was it because of the delay in its authorship or time-consuming pedantry over the process of its adoption?
In our opinion, while tact in handling bond-building inter-party affairs among rival parties may be very crucial, relevance and timeliness of political actions are key to the quality of any political leadership. And so is formulation and expression of policies of any political organization.
What was it that was holding up the publication of the joint statement of the six political parties after the uproar in the media caused by individual leaders of individual parties? Individually, UDP leader, Ousainou Darboe, had denounced it , calling it. “preposterous and ridiculous.” National Reconciliation Party leader Hsamat Bah proposed amendments will kill multi-party democracy in The Gambia by making it almost impossible for opposition parties to contest elections.” People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), Halifa Sallah said the amendments to the Elections Act include key clauses which are “unreasonable and unjustifiable”.
The GMC leader, Mai Ahmed Fatty, said the amendment bill, when passed, “will put elected public office up for sale at a price beyond the reach of the ordinary citizen.”
But their joint statement issued, according to them, on the 17th of June but not published until the 7th of July, made no mention of the bill.
Other issues taken up by the stale and belated statement included the following:
On what it called Protection Against Ostracism, Stigmatization, or Discrimination,” the joint statement held it that “that it is reasonable restriction to bar a child or one suffering from infirmity from standing for public elections but would constitute unreasonable and unjustifiable restriction to bar a Gambian from standing for public elections who is above the age of a child and is of sound mind and body.
And therefore added that, “It recommends for the amendment of section 63 of the constitution so that an upper age limit would not constitute a bar to participation as a presidential candidate.”
The Joint six-party statement also wrote, “ The Opposition endorsed the IEC’s recommendation to the National Assembly for electoral law review to exclude Attestation Forms from the documents that are to be forwarded to the Registration Officers during registration of voters” to determine citizenship and the request to re-introduce the screening of registration applicants by registering officers.
And that, “The opposition further supports the proposal to mandate the IEC to demarcate boundaries before the setting up of a boundaries Commission and hold Presidential and National Assembly Elections on the same day using paper ballot as the system of voting.”
But the bill to amend the electoral laws then proposed by government and now passed by the National Assembly includes changes in the demarcation of constituency boundaries that has attracted the expressed support of the opposition leaders themselves, namely Hon. Hamat Bah of the NRP party.
Supplement B of the Gazette that first disclosed the bill stated, that Kombo North, would be spilt into three constituencies, namely Sanneh Menterreng , Old Yundum and Busumbala.
Kombo Central, spilt into two constituencies, namely Brikama North and Brikama South. Serrekunda East spilt into two constituencies, namely Tallinding Kunjang and Latrikunda constituencies.
Were the opposition parties unaware or playing to be unaware?
Then for the second to last point on the list of demands and proposals, the jointly recommends “the promulgation of a two term limit of four or five year duration per term to enhance greater political stability and national peace and security.”
Then their second to the final and last call is for either for a requirement of a running mate for the presidency to take over in case of certain eventualities or the requirement of Election Within 90 days. And the last one they propose for “the revitalisation of the Inter party Committee to enable it to serve as a forum for dialogue and cooperation to promote participatory democracy anchoring on the level ground required for the holding of free, fair and genuine elections.”
Is that the end of this sorry saga, what options are there now available to the opposition parties, concerned citizens and Gambians at large? Check out for Part Two.