Gambian people have voted for President Barrow to serve five years mandate as stipulated in the constitution in December 1st, 2016 Presidential election. This evidence is found in section 63 (1) which states that “the term of office of an elected president shall, subject to subsection (3) and (6), be for a term of five years, and the person elected president shall before assuming office take the prescribed oaths.” This constitutional provision is totally in contravention with the three years term the coalition opposition leaderships have agreed on. Now the question that is not communicated is whether the “new National Assembly members should change the constitution to satisfy the coalition’s agreement or maintain the current five years term?”
My answer to this question is simply NO. Politically, it will be impossible for the United Democratic Party (UDP) National Assembly members to support and vote for a constitutional change that limits President Barrow’s tenure in office.
Legally, the Supreme Court of the country will also not support and justify the three-year term since it violates the constitution of The Gambia. Our political leaderships should have known that the constitution clearly states that the President shall serve five years term – nothing less or more. Any changes to this constitutional provision is a violation of our constitution and betrayal of trust and confidence Gambian people have bestowed on their President to serve a five-year mandate. Such changes also violates the basic duty and responsibility of the President which is to uphold and defend the constitution.
I have read a report on the press conference conveyed by Hon. Halifa Sallah, the National Assembly member for Serekunda Central. He was among the leaders who set the stage for a potential controversy. The coalition agreement on the President’s mandate must not supercede a constitution that majority of Gambians voted for. Hon. Sallah complained that “we (coalition leaders) agreed in the beginning to elect a president that will not overstay, and after serving three years such person will not contest the next election. This is what Barrow agreed and was elected at the 1st December 2016 presidential elections.”
The question I have for Mr Sallah is, “why did the coalition leaders in the first place make an agreement which violates the constitution of The Gambia knowing fully well that the Gambian constitution clearly states that the president shall serve five years in office? Mr Sallah, who always claimed to be an expert on Gambian constitution through his words and actions, simply failed to remind himself at the time that three years agreement is totally in violation of our constitution. Why is he complaining about the three-year constitutional violations he has advocated and supported during the coalition formation?
Mr Sallah did not only complain about President Barrow’s term in office, but also queried as to why Coalition parties failed to agree on national assembly election. “We all agreed that President Barrow be an elected as an independent candidate to lead the coalition and to elect independent candidates as National Assembly members under the coalition government. But some parties insist that they wanted to sustain their parties that was why we contested under our individual parties, instead of contesting as independent candidates under the coalition as we agreed upon earlier.” This leads to another question that I have for Hon. Sallah. Where is the agreement that states that the coalition should contest National Assembly election as independent candidates? Mr Sallah either has amnesia or he is totally in denial of what they have agreed upon. There was never an agreement that was published publicly that the coalition parties agreed to have independent candidates for National Assembly elections during its formation. If there is such a document then I would encourage Mr. Sallah to produce the evidence rather than complaining about what has never been agreed upon.
As we speak, Gambian people are looking forward to seeing their president serve full constitutionally mandated five-year term in office. Whatever agreement the coalition leaders made was between themselves and that agreement has no bearing on what Gambian constitution mandated or Gambians voted for. The constitution of The Gambia is the supreme law of the land and is the guiding principle that our elected leaders must follow. After 22 years of military dictatorship, it is time to follow the constitution and make necessary constitutional reforms which benefit every Gambians. Five years term which Gambian people have voted for President Barrow to serve is enough time for the new government to embark on constitutional, political and economic reforms agenda. Considering deteriorating political, economic and constitutional crisis President Barrow inherited from Dictator Yaya Jammeh, the five-year constitutional term will help the new government country to lay down the foundation for democratic values, institutional reforms and economic development projects for the future generations.
Any changes to the constitutional provision of five years term shall be subjected to referendum which is too costly for our poor citizens to finance. In this fragile political environment, another presidential election in the next three years would generate more divisions among the citizens. It is time to heal together as a nation which is why Gambians do not need any political bickering or infighting. Whatever bad agreement the political leaders made during the coalition formation is their fault. They should not drag the country into their ill-conceived constitutional violations as Mr Sallah is currently complaining about. President Barrow must serve five years term. I hope the National Assembly members will work to serve the common interest of Gambian people as Our constitution states.