Let’s start with the values of your party. Core values of your party are justice, peace and progress. What form of representation should these values take in The Gambia today?
These values, which constitute the motto of the party, speak volumes to what we the United Democratic Party (UDP) want The Gambia to be. We want a Gambia where justice prevails, because UDP believes that where there is no justice, there is a sense of discord and instability. Without justice, society will not be in harmony. Without justice, there will be anarchy. We believe that where there is anarchy, you will have great impediment to development. Development can only take place in stable society. Development is built on justice. And, of course, where you have justice you have development. If I may use the Biblical language: ‘Justice begets development, and development begets justice and justice begets progress’.
Let us explore the UDP and Mr Darboe’s strategy of winning power. Your party’s share of the votes in the 2001 presidential election hovered encouragingly at 32.6%, in 2006 it slumped to 26.7%, and further deepened in 2011 to 17.36%. What strategy does your party have in place to reverse these plummeting vote share trend in the 2016 presidential election; which is shoving your party to a complete wipeout?
Our strategy, which we have started putting in place in the last few months, is to educate the voters on the need to cast their votes during elections. It is those who abstain from voting [who are] responsible for electing the government. Because with their votes they can throw out a bad government from power. But once they abstain, they give the other party power. After all, those who abstained are the ones who have no confidence in the regime, and yet they find it difficult to vote. We are educating the people the vital importance voting can make, especially the young ones. Because after all, their power lies on the vote that they can assert their rights and responsibility. I hold the view that those who do not vote have no right to criticise the government in place.
I wonder what you make of these depressing figures during your moments of quite reflections. Are you worried that your party is facing oblivion?
I am certainly optimistic. I don’t see my party declining in oblivion. In fact, I have just stated the strategy we have adopted, which is to encourage people to vote. The number of people voting is shrinking. If they turn out and vote, that will reverse the situation. What we have are voters who go the polls because of incentives, and when I say that I mean incentives given by the ruling party for them to vote. And threats and intimidation that’ if you do not vote for me, you are not going to have development in your area’. We are telling them, educating them that the government is responsible for using tax payers’ money to develop your area. But the intimidation goes beyond that. Traditional rulers and chiefs are engaged in things no other than daily campaigning for the ruling party. We have always condemned the participation of security forces in partisan politics. During election campaigns we see military vehicles ferrying people around. These are things that militate against oppositions in this country, and our supporters are targeted.
You criss-crossed the length and breadth of the country on a whistled-stop tour to meet your party faithful. What is your assessment of the tour?
I was very impressed. The turnout was good. There were places we don’t have on our scheduled, but we made a stop to campaign there, like the Tumanas and the Badibous. In fact, the Monday [the day they left] on 6 o’clock we had a rousing welcome at Kerr Omar Manneh in Jokadu, which was also not part of the tour. You called it whistled-stop tour. We called it caravan tour. Meeting people at their community is far more worthy, because the interaction is intensive. It is different from the main rallies, which is characterised by dancing, drum beating and ambience. But the caravan talk is business talk. You sell your programmes to the electorate, and they also react to some of the things you say, and make suggestions to what they want you to do for them. We find it very productive, and it pays dividends.
Moving to the Independent Electoral Commission amendments now. The amendments, which stipulate that presidential hopefuls will pay D5, 000 to contest, also have reforms over issuing of licenses. The majority leader, Hon Fabakary Tombong Jatta, says critics of the amendments tend to be over-negative with the bill. What is your problem with the IEC bill?
I respect the honourable gentleman. I respect the views he had, but I differ with him. In the first place what he thinks to be benefits in the bill is going to scuttle democracy in the country. The bill seeks to remove some parties from the political stage. And also, you talked about issuing licences being given to the IEC from the Police. We cautiously welcome that, but what can assure us that the IEC will be no different from the police? We will have to wait and see on that, before give it blanket praise.
Your party boycotted the 2012 parliamentary election. Good judgment is important in politics. It is argued that if you contested that election, and won enough seats, your party could have asphyxiated the IEC bill. Do you accept that you made a catastrophic error of judgment, boycotting the 2012 parliamentary election?
No I don’t accept that. Let me tell you this, when we contested the presidential election, we put some demands forward that were met. Demands like giving access to the media, stopping security forces and commissioners from using public resources to campaign for a party. We were given guarantees by the IEC that this will not happen, and, sadly, that never prevailed. So when we were called to contest the 2012 presidential election, we declined. To say that there is inconsistence or contradiction in contesting the presidential election and not the parliamentary election is something I don’t agree with. What I thought was that the IEC is composed of men who will honour their words. We are demanding reforms at the IEC for the resignation of the chairman [Mustapha L Carayol]. The truth is he has served two terms of seven-years, and you cannot continue to be chairman of the commission after serving that term. Certainly, one would have thought that he [Carayol] would have resigned when this was pointed out. I think he should rather give up and give way to a new commissioner. He can use his knowledge and experience to help the new commissioner run the IEC effectively. That is what I expected.
On grand coalition now. Are there any coalition talks on the cards ahead of the 2016 elections?
It is possible that there is a coalition on the cards. UDP is not aware of any coalition talks yet. But let me tell you why we are talking about coalition government. The political playing field is not level. If the political playing field was level, where you have a second round of voting, probably we won’t be talking about coalitions. If the political playing field was level each party will have access to the radio and television to present their programmes to the people, and no intimidation and threats. There would not be inducements. It will be a contest of the equals. When we have the contest of the equals, we won’t be talking about coalitions. But, because we are faced with contest of the unequals, created by the system that is why people are clamoring for a united opposition.
What will be your demand going into any opposition coalition?
I will not give answers to any hypothetical question. Let the UDP be presented with factual real situation in a meeting convened by opposition parties. At that meeting we will present our views. I cannot present a position on a non-existence issue.
Let me now move to the issue that is keeping tongues wagging across the country. In a move described as historic, the president of the republic pardoned political prisoners. What is your reaction to this gesture of goodwill?
Let me say it was not only political prisoners. It included others convicted of drugs and murder. I want to be on record to say that the president should be applauded by everybody. This is what we expect, especially political prisoners. Personally, my party holds the view that he had done something great. I wholeheartedly welcome it with little reservation, regarding releasing drug barons. The government cannot combat drug trafficking, a battle which his government is waging, by releasing such people. In this healing and reconciliation process, he should also go beyond by releasing people like Mambureh Njie [former Minister], who is in detention, and the former attorney general and solicitor general. Crimes such as murder are heinous compared to abuse of office and neglect of duty, which are the crimes of these people. The families of the December 30th attack should also be released. So I want to use this medium to ask the president to release these categories of people.
You have been on opposite side of the political divide with the present government. But if I can get you to tell me one development initiative of the government that you backed, what would it be?
I will hail the building of schools. Infrastuture development of schools is a major achievement. In tandem of that infrastuture development should be the training of quality teachers to teach the students.
Finally, on the vexed issue of your eligibility to contest the upcoming presidential election. According to Section 62 sub-Section 1(b) of the 1997 Constitution as amended, a person shall be qualified for election if he/she is more than thirty-five years, and not more than sixty-five years old. Mr Darboe, you have clocked 66-years old, meaning technically you cannot stand. Will you, or won’t you allow your name to be put forward by your party as candidate in 2016?
It is not technically, it is constitutionally. Obviously unless that constitutional provision is amended neither myself nor any other person who is above 65-years is eligible to contest. I think Gambians are making a monumental mistake with this so-called senior citizen clause, which should be deleted from the Constitution. In fact, what we should have in the Constitution is presidential term-limit, not an upper-age limit. After all we have seen in Tunisia and Nigeria 72 years old [President Muhammad Buhari] being voted into office. This age-limit is some of the things that point to contradictions in our Constitution. I am not leading the UDP till death do us apart, but I think with this section of the Constitution Gambians are making a fundamental mistake. What they tend to do is to equate the individual with the party. After all, it is the programmes of the party that is sold to the people to get you elected into office, not the personality of the person. People can fizzle out of the political fray, but their party programmes and polices remain in place.
This paper learnt that these people are released
This interview was first broadcast on West Coast Radio Civic Engagement Hour run by the National Youth Parliament.