The idea that political parties should be required to take out insurance cover in order to hold rallies is a very, very bad one. It is the sort of idea or policy which, if implemented, can have serious impact on the democratic credentials and practice of any nation, especially a poor developing nation like The Gambia.
For starters, requiring political parties to take out insurance cover in order to hold rallies, which is the most utilised way of disseminating political messages, will amount to the commercialisation of political activity, which would by itself, restrict participation in our politics, because parties may not find resources to take out insurance cover and keep up with premium payments and therefore, their activities will be seriously curtailed. Such a policy would seem to be unconstitutional, as its natural consequences, intended or not, is the restriction of party political activity and participation.
The other problem with this idea is the fact that rallies are open meetings that can be attended by any members of the public, whether they belong to the party, support it or oppose it. It becomes obviously clear that any party can be driven to bankruptcy by opponents who wish to destroy or hamper its activities, by turning up at their meetings, disguised as supporters, and then causing trouble. This would make insurance cover for such a party very expensive if trouble breaks out every time they hold a rally and eventually, such a party may even struggle to find insurers ready to offer them a policy, due to the risks involved. And this again would lead to the curtailment of political activity and participation.
Apart from damaging any democracy by restricting participation, it could also lead to a situation where political parties cozy up to the rich and influential to attract funds to keep up with high and ever increasing insurance premium obligations, and in turn, become subservient to the interest of its benefactors, once in government. We see this in some advance “democracies”, where government policies mirror the interests of the rich and influential because parties and politicians depend on the rich to engage in politics and conduct political activities. This is not a healthy situation for any democracy and we must never go down this route.
Nonetheless, the concerns expressed by the writer regarding political violence and how to curb it is very important, and the view that political leaders must be held responsible for their actions and that of their members, is indeed, an essential component of any steps that need to be taken to curtail violence in politics.
In my view, making it a requirement for political parties to consult and work with the Police is the best guarantee to peaceful political rallies and other activities.
The Police need to be resourced, both in human and material resources, to be able to effectively carry out their duties, and where they are unable to provide the necessary security for a rally to go ahead, depending on the risks, the party may either postpone the rally, provide their own security or be fully responsible for the consequences of any outbreaks of violence.
The National media, civic society groups and civic education institutions must all play their role to eradicate violence and thuggish behaviour in politics. Together, we can make political contest a mutually respectful competition for our people’s mandate to serve our nation. But I personally have to say a very big “NO” to the commercialisation of political activity in our country, and introducing insurance cover would be doing exactly that.