The main purpose of any electoral coalition is to merge the resources of two or more parties to improve electoral outcomes for the members of the coalition. This may involve uniting behind common candidates or, in plurality-majority systems, agreeing not to compete against each other in particular electoral districts. Often, the ultimate goal is to achieve the vote share required to win an election, achieve majority in the elections. In the Gambia and as the country is heading to the elections in December 2016 fragmented opposition parties are competing to win the elections. However as the electoral laws require simple majority to win the elections, Gambians at home and abroad are exerting efforts to form a sturdy coalition in a bid to defeat the seating regime of Yahya Jammeh. Nonetheless, the debate remains revolved around the party which should lead this proposed coalition.
In reacting to this, and in reflecting to political theories and practice, I am with conviction that task of leading the coalition should be entrusted to the UDP. Nonetheless, given the peculiar nature of the political landscape in the Gambia- which is fraught with lack of trust among the opposition and dominance of personal interests over national interests amid the high need for change, UDP can consign its legitimate right of leading the coalition to an independent party as a pragmatic strategy in realizing the common objectives of putting an end to over 20 years of dictatorship.
The right of UDP to lead the coalition is proved by both political theories and practices. Theoretically, and in pre and post electoral alliance or coalition the agreement or memorandum of understanding between parties are mainly centered around the sharing of power in the prospect government, i.e. sharing of key posts and ministerial portfolio. Thus, the leadership of a pre-electoral alliance is the inherited right of the party with a formidable strength to pull more vote. Overall the factors used to determine each party’s strength will vary depending on the specific context and data available; however political scientists normally refer to the following as indications of a party’s power. These include:
• Previous election results;
• The historic strongholds of each party (as defined by geography, ethnicity or other
• The size of each party’s membership;
• Independent polling results; or
• Financial strength/fundraising potential
Applying this to the state of political parties in the Gambia suffices that UDP should have the leverage to the lead the coalition. This is vindicated by the strength of the party as demonstrated in the previous presidential and legislative elections in which UDP not only outvoted other oppositions, but also challenged the incumbent in many constituencies. As it stands today, there is not accurate statistics that will indicate that the popularity of UDP is declining so much so that its elections result will regress behind any standing opposition parties which are claiming the leadership role in the prospect coalition. Instead, the popularity of UDP seems to be on rise since the arrest and the killing of UDP members. For example, despite the incarceration of their executive, UDP was able to convene unprecedented rallies in Brikama and Bundung respectively. These turnouts not only overshadowed the turnouts of sisterly opposition parties, but it also confirm the acceleration of UDP popularity across the country.
In addition to the previous election results, the strength of UDP is represented also in widespread of their stronghold due to demographic factors. Unlike PDOIS and the newly emerging party GDC whose support bases are concentrated in one particular region, UDP strongholds comprise most of the constituencies and local councils. These include Banjul, KMC, Brikama, Mansakonko, Basse, Bansang, Badibu etc. In each of these councils, UDP generally pulled more votes than any other existing opposition parties. And there is no indication that the infant party in the person of GDC can outnumber UDP in any of these councils. Added to this, the tendency of political parties to appeal to their ethnic groups amid the polarization of politics along the tribal line also gives UDP extra strength given the fact that UDP has strong identification with Mandinkas who are the major tribal group in the country.
Moreover, and although there is no accurate number in the possession of the author that confirms that UDP has more party membership or financial strength than other parties, this unconformity matches with semi-confirmation that it has an edge over GDC and PDOIS in these aspects. This could be observed in the reality which reflects the consistent existence of UDP activism throughout 22 years of its existence. Should there be any financial deficit; UDP’s political activism will see a setback during the past years of existence in a hostile political environment.
The outlined factors that should qualify UDP to lead the coalition in the Gambia are not odd with political practices across the world. From Africa to Europe and across the American continent, the strength of parties – as manifested by its popularity or previous electoral results – place it to lead a coalition in pre and post-electoral coalition. In fac, this has been the practice in the political history of the Gambia. For example, PPP led a coalition with small parties like United Party (UP) and Muslim Congress Party (MCP) to form a coalition government in 1963. In Nigeria and Senegal, small opposition parties rallied behind big opposition parties to win the recent elections in these countries. Similarly in Kenya and in 2002 one group of 14 parties coalesced into the National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK) and would eventually reach agreement to form a coalition with main party the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), resulting in an even bigger coalition: the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) to win the presidential elections. In a similar example, Sweden KD party joined the Central Party to win the elections in 1970s and 80s. Therefore, in pre-electoral coalition, the discussion and agreements are tailed to the distribution of power between the parties should they win the elections. Thus, the leadership of the coalition is assigned to a party identified to pull more votes based on previous elections results or demographic factors. In post-electoral coalition, political practices across the globe indicate that minority parties, as reflected in previous elections results, join the majority parties to form a coalition governments. This is the political Norms in UK, Germany, Norway and Sweden.
Despite the conviction that UDP should lead the coalition based on political theories and practices, political landscape of the Gambia presents a peculiar scenario in which oppositions are in denial of facts drawn from past and the present. Competing parties with UDP deny the predominance of the UDP and its nationwide influence. This has been a stumbling block for the formation of the coalition despite the threat that threatens the existence of the Gambians. It in this context of denial PODIS calls for ambiguous preliminaries, while GDC call others to rally behind them. Based on what seems to be driven by their personal interests, not national one, these propositions have been a challenge for the unification of oppositions behind UDP which has been formidable in breaking the fear of challenging Yahya Jammeh regime on the street, and which has been bearing the cost of Yahya Jammeh’s brutality than any political parties.
On the backdrop of this standoff, the emergence of an independent candidate in the person of Dr. Isatou Touray seems to be cooler for the situation. While UDP still have privilege by virtue of their support base and the sacrifice as well as the lost they incur in the course of the struggles, the UDP is expected by the Gambians to apply their rationale, rather than emotion, to kindly relinquish their privilege and right to Dr. Isatou for the unity of the opposition and for the desired change. This should not be seen as the incapability of the UDP neither should it be interpreted as the strength of Dr. Isatou Touray. Rather it sis should be interpreted as unfortunate reality in which oppositions lack trusts for each other which necessitates that we have a neutral person with not party affiliation to lead the coalition. Thus, as it strongly assumed that GDC and PDOIS would stand alone should UDP claim its right to lead the coalition, UDP consider the plights of the Gambians and the dare need for change to take a pragmatic approach to salvage the country from another five years of brutal killings, economic hardship, mysterious disappearance and self-imposed exiling by delegating its role to Dr. Isatou. Should UDP opt for this approach, they will remain vividly respected by the honest people of this country as the party that not only defied Yahya Jammeh in polls and on the street, but also that rescued the country from the hell. In this regard, the surrogates Dr. Isatou should recognize and acknowledge the narration of UDP as the party that has been targeted and brutalized by Yahya Jammeh; and the supporters should act will humility to convince the UDP surrogates that they are here to work together with them in achieving the common goal.
Ba Moro Sanneh