By Musa Bah
On the 12th May 2018, Gambians went to the polls to vote for their mayors and chairpersons of area councils. It was interesting and hope-inspiring that this year, an unprecedented number of aspirants threw their hats in the ring. For instance, for mayor of Banjul alone, there were nine candidates running for that position. Among these were two women which is another milestone as no female has ever contested for that position in the history of The Gambia.
The campaign period was very intense but interesting. It was heartwarming to see candidates crisscross the country garnering for votes. They, to a large extent, exhibited maturity and each one of them focused on winning the hearts of the electorate by convincing them of the merits of their plans to transform the city/municipality or area councils. As the election day got closer, the race was observed to intensify towards the climax. Interesting times these were indeed!
Another interesting feature of this elections were the debates between and among candidates. This afforded the electorate the opportunity to watch, observe and thus know their candidates and what their plans were for them. This is indeed healthy as it promotes fair play and enables the electorate take part in the process. They were asked questions relating to their manifestos and afforded ample time to answer and explain their plans.
The Gambia Radio and Television Services is to be commended for making it possible for electorate to meet and talk to their aspirants not only here in the urban areas, but in the other parts of the country as well. The emergence of the Eye Africa TV and QTV was an added advantage as they all took part in sensitizing the Gambian electorate during the campaign. This is healthy and angers well for the nascent democracy we are trying to nurture.
The elections were observed by both national and international observer groups. Nationally, the Civil Society Organizations observed the elections and gave their view after the results were announced. According to them, voting went on smoothly throughout the country with very few incidents of hitches to the process. Overall, the elections were declared ‘free and fair’.
According to the Independent Electoral Commission, the United Democratic Party (UDP) were the clear winners. The results show that they won seven out of the eight seats contested. This means that the Gambia has decided to go yellow. What one can learn from this is that the UDP is working very hard to sell their agenda to the people of the country.
One may ask why other political parties performed so abysmally. The answer to this question is simple and complex at the same time. It is simple because the bottom line is that the message of these parties has not resonated with the people of the nation. If they could find a way of making the people hear them – not just listen but hear – perhaps their fortunes will change. Then they will begin to perform better in elections. The complexity is on how to transform themselves into truly democratic parties. People are not only interested in the theorical aspects but also the practical aspects of politics.
However, it was not – is not – all cozy in these elections. There were reports of irregularities during the campaign and even on election day. It was alleged that some people belonging to certain parties were buying votes from poor individuals. This news circulated all over the place due to the availability of the Internet.
There were also innuendos about tribes and religion and stuff that should never be brought in the open as they belong to the closet of our hearts. The issue of tribe must be confronted head-on. It is time we nipped this bane in the bud. It is interesting that many do not want to acknowledge it in the first place. When we meet in our Bantabas, our offices, our houses and the like, it is there with us hovering over our heads. We talk about any and everything except the elephant in the room. This must change. We must address it.
Two things happened after the elections which need our urgent attention. The supporters of the APRC and those of the UDP had a scuffle due to the way they handle themselves. This incident took place in Talinding where the two parties have always had a problem. This time though it was so serious that the police had to come and fire teargas to disperse them. A solution must be found for this before it gets out of hand.
Certain practical steps need to be taken to ensure that the rivalry between UDP and APRC does not escalate into something terrible. Towards this end, there must be justice. The government must investigate this issue thoroughly and assign blame where it belongs. If need be, prosecutions should happen so that people will know that justice will not be compromised.
However, for the short-term solution, the party leaders must exhibit good leadership by addressing their supporters when the need arises. Party leaders must tell their followers that nothing can happen in the absence of peace. Without this precious commodity, no progress can take place. The leaders of these and other parties therefore must understand that it is their duty to work hard with their militants to keep the peace.
Perhaps, proper civic awareness will also help in reducing the tension that rises whenever two political parties meet. The government, through the National Council for Civic Education must intensify efforts to educate the people. The political parties, civil society and indeed everyone should take part in educating and enlightening the masses. With adequate awareness, this type of behavior will not happen repeatedly. Everyone must therefore play their part for us to move on.
The reporting of the results however leaves a lot to be decided. For instance, how and who announces the results? Should there be mechanism to control who disseminates news of the results? Do we legislate the celebrations, where do we draw the line? What is the role of social media in the increasing crime rate we continue to witness these days. All these should be studied, and a national dialogue conducted on them.
Another interesting highlight of the election this year was the way it was reported on the GRTS Facebook page. It was said that the UDP lost the seat in Kuntaur because of the Kerr Fatou Show. The Kerr Fatou show recorded an episode after the government failed to respond early enough when the floods brought havoc in that community. It was reported that the GDC came there to render valuable service to the community.
Besides, condemning this unacceptable misnomer, I want to delve into it a little bit to dig out the insinuations and innuendos and whatnot. It is obvious that there are four assumptions here, all of which are wrong. The first assumption is that the Government of Adama Barrow is a UDP government. This is wrong because President Adama Barrow came under a Coalition Government. Thus, the failure of the government cannot be entirely hung on the UDP.
The other assumption is that the people of Kuntaur voted for the GDC instead of the UDP because of the Kerr Fatou show. It seems we underestimate our people. The people of Kuntaur are sound enough to realize it when someone was to take them for a ride.
Yet, another assumption is that the UDP should win all elections. This cannot be. We have a multiparty democracy and parties compete for votes and supporters. It will not be good for the country if only one party were to be winning elections all the time.
If there is any hint also that GDC winning a seat in the elections is a bad thing then that thought should be dislodged immediately. We must be openminded and realize that it is in unity that we will find strength. We must come together to show the rest of the world that we have what it takes to run our own democracy.
Perhaps I should say that in their defense, GRTS removed the controversial comment very quickly and has since come up with explanation as to how it happened.