By Essa Njie
Mr. President I must say that it is not a surprise that differences are emerging within the coalition for that is normal in any coalition government. This is premise on the fact that, coalitions are formed base on ‘marriage of convenience’ and once the convenience seizes to exist, marital dilemma begins to show its ugly head. When the coalition was formed and you were chosen to be the standard-bearer, it behooves any politically conscious Gambian to ask the question of how the parliamentary polls were going to be contested. This is a technical question that someone once asked but found it hard to get a perfect answer. I can certainly say that, out of enthusiasm and sentiment to get rid of Jammeh, many forgot about this moment as all energies were on ‘Jammeh must go’, which is indeed commendable. But it should have been noted by Gambians that, Parliamentary election is equally important just as presidential election and tactics to contest the former polls should have been long strategized and agreed upon prior to this day as we are just few weeks from the D-DAY.
Information has been going around that the coalition is currently fragmented in the run-up to the National Assembly elections scheduled for April 6th 2017 which I do not think is really the case. The disagreement according to is, the United Democratic and the National Reconciliation Parties have some reservations on contesting the April Parliamentary polls as Independent Coalition Candidates while the rest of the parties prefer it that way. Even though, you are independent of all parties within the coalition, it is still important as the head of a government which comprises different political parties to still make an intervention in settling the current political racket in the circle. Based on information gathered so far, the problem stands this way: Contesting on party tickets or on Independent Coalition tickets.
Why the need to contest on party tickets?
Through a conversation with a key UDP member, the stance of the UDP as far as the NA elections are concerned is, parties should contests separately and not as independent candidates. The argument advanced is, it should be noted by all that the coalition is not a political party that can contest for parliamentary seats. What I could infer from this argument is that, all interested candidates who wish to be supported by the coalition should contest as Independent Coalition Candidates but not as Coalition Candidates. Such candidates must therefore, resign from their different political parties to contest.
Remember, this was exactly what you did when you resigned from the UDP to contest as an Independent Coalition Candidate because the agreement on the formation of the alliance was based on an Independent-led Coalition and not a Party-led Coalition. This brought you to office. The UDP strong aficionado continued that contesting as Independent Coalition Candidates could be dangerous for the fact that independent candidates or parliamentarians are incontrollable. He further argued Mr. President that, if the parties in the coalition should contest as Independent Coalition Candidates, even if oppositions APRC happen to secure two seats and the GDC one seat, then the Majority and Minority Leaders will come from the two parties because coalition is not and cannot be a registered political party to contest parliamentary polls unlike presidential election (even though not a political party). Furthermore, he argued that the stance of the UDP is for parties in the coalition to contest on their own so as to 1. Possibly have a majority and minority leaders from the coalition parties; 2. Avoid an APRC and GDC controlled parliament. In addition, the UDP according to him, will still strategize ways to make sure that multiple candidates from the coalition do not contest in a constituency. In this regard, parties will come up with candidates in different constituencies based on their support base in such areas and will receive the support of all parties in the coalition. E.g, if it is known that Kiang West is a UDP stronghold, the party will come up with a candidate there to contest under a UDP ticket but with no opposition from other parties within the coalition. Equally, if it is realized that Serrekunda Central is a PDOIS stronghold with the conviction that a PDOIS candidate has a greater chance of winning than any other party, then the person will contest under PDOIS ticket and receive the backings of all parties within the coalition. Again, if it is realized that Fulladu is an NRP stronghold, then the NRP will come up with a candidate there to contest under an NRP ticket and equally receive the supports of all parties in the coalition. With this according to him, it will be easier to win more seats and take control of parliament as coalition political parties with the aim of putting up good laws for the country. It is a fact that the coalition is not a political party and cannot contest parliamentary elections as a political party; hence it can only put up candidates on independent tickets. However, one may argue that, in as much as the UDP and NRP are of the view that contesting under party tickets is the surest way to avoid APRC and GDC dominated parliament, it must equally be noted that there is no guarantee that the UDP, NRP or any other party in the coalition will win in those perceived ‘strongholds’. Again, there exists little difference between contesting as political parties or as Independent Coalition Candidates; hence both tactics are geared towards having one candidate per constituency from parties in the coalition.
Why the need to contest on Independent Coalition tickets?
Some are of the view that there is indeed the need for the coalition to continue as a bloc in the National Assembly polls. The argument advanced by a coalition supporter is that, contesting on party tickets might work in the interest of the oppositions APRC and GDC as those perceived coalition political parties ‘strongholds’ may fall under the influence of the opposition parties. To him, many Gambians voted for the coalition in the presidential election because of the unity found at the heart of the then opposition parties. Parting ways to contest on party tickets may not be easily understood by ordinary Gambians as supporters will now show loyalty to political parties and not candidates. It will become a difficult if not an impossible job to make PDOIS supporters to vote for a UDP candidate when another independent candidate is contesting in the same constituency. Equally, it will become another difficult if not an impossible job to convince UDP supporters to vote for a PDOIS or an NRP or PPP candidate when another independent candidate is contesting in the same constituency. But since the spirit of the coalition still exists, contesting on Independent Coalition tickets according to him is the surest way to avoid opposition hegemony in parliament and it will be easier to convince coalition supporters to vote for the Independent Coalition Candidate. He further maintained that since this is an exceptional case as in, the country is at crossroads with the need to clear the political mess created by the former government under the current National Assembly, any slight chance of opposition hegemony in parliament will make life difficult for you and your government. When the Movement for Multi-party Democracy defeated Kenneth Kaunda and his UNIP party in the 1991 Zambian presidential polls, the new opposition party (UNIP) became a strong opposition party in parliament and started to build support among Zambians. Fear of UNIP hegemony, Frederick Chiluba of the MMD, decided to manipulate the constitution to prevent Kaunda from running for presidency. In light of this, the strength of the opposition APRC must not be underestimated. If underestimated, Gambians will receive shocking parliamentary results.
Mr. President, as the situation stands this way, I call on you as the leaders of the coalition government to engage all parties and ensure a smooth compromise that will not jeopardize our desire to truly build a new nation. You made mention that the coalition will contest the NA election as a family but it is important that you cautiously look into how dangerous this might be. I am of the view that the coalition is not disintegrated as one may think. The problem lies on the differences in terms of which tactics will work best. I am of the view that the UDP and NRP have tangible reasons as to why they are calling for the coalition to contest on party tickets as this has always been the case in many if not all coalition governments all over the world and this will ensure the existence of a balance parliament that will be representative of all the parties for a competitive political system. It is a matter of making Gambians understand that these parties are here to stay while the coalition will go. Since, it is true that the coalition will be dismantled once your term expires as all the parties will go their way to contest the next presidential polls, it is important that they all make best use of the opportunity available to win the hearts and minds of Gambians and ensure a balance democratic parliament.