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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Jonathan returns for final constitution talks

By Omar Bah

Former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has arrived in the country to continue consultations with Gambian stakeholders on the constitution review process.

Jonathan’s attempts so far, which include flying political party leaders to Nigeria to find consensus, have not yielded fruits.

This is the third time he is travelling to the country.

Today’s meeting is expected to seek consensus on the retroactive clause of the [president’s current] term and the method to reintroduce the draft constitution to the National Assembly.

All the political parties reportedly agreed on compromising the retroactive clause of the [president’s current] term, except the UDP who maintained that the draft should be returned to the National Assembly ‘unaltered’.

Reactions

The UDP spokesperson Almamy Taal told The Standard yesterday evening: “The constitution impasse is created by the parliament; they should equally resolve it. Our commitment is that it is the people’s draft and it should be delivered to the people to render their final verdict. As far as we are concerned, that is the proper way to go. So our position remains unchanged.”

On the Jonathan mediation process, Taal said: “I think the party leader has made it absolutely clear to everyone that if you are invited in the national interest you should be able to go to make your position absolutely clear. The party leader also made it absolutely clear that he went to prison and he was ready to die for this country. So nobody can lecture the UDP or the party leader on patriotism or love for country.”

The GMC leader, Mai Fatty urged all stakeholders to put the national interest above partisan interest. “Establishing a preconceived mindset and setting unreasonable conditions would not only prove inhibitive, but also inimical to national interests. The ultimate objective is to move the draft to a national referendum so as to reflect the broad consensus of the majority of Gambians.

“Creating artificial political barriers along the path of a referendum would be insincere and amount to unlawfully usurping the rights of voters. Therefore, we believe that there should be no reason to truncate the process, so as to preliminarily oust the sovereign power of voters at the plebiscite.”

The former Interior Minister said the government’s sincerity will be judged in the event there “is a stalemate on the retroactive clause and they fail to do nothing”.

“Such an unfortunate conclusion could be remedied by presenting a bill in parliament under the relevant law, depending on the draftsman’s language of the bill. The government could then send the draft constitution directly to a referendum as it is, in its original form, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the law. Subsequently, proponents on both sides of the retroactive clause could battle it out during the campaign for a yes or no vote at the plebiscite,” he added.

He said a referendum implies an electoral decision of the voters on a significant issue of fundamental national importance.

“It is not for the National Assembly to substitute themselves for the generality of Gambian voters and arrogate to themselves powers that could legally be directly and exclusively exercised only by Gambian voters outside of Parliament. This includes either in the plenary or committee stage,” he noted.

He warned that if the government initiates a parliamentary process applicable to an ordinary bill, “then they would be complicit in killing the draft once more”.

“We remain flexible to concede to superior argument. Yet, if the government really wants to go beyond the obvious impasse, there is abundant legal recourse, and we will take sufficient time to explain and convince Gambians that they would have intentionally confused themselves to abdicate and negate the will of the people,” he said.

The GAP senior administrative secretary, Muhammed Yaffa called on political leaders to consider national interests. “Our firm allegiance must be pledged to The Gambia and not political parties,” he said.

Mamma Kandeh of the GDC and Dr Ismaila Ceesay of Citizens’ Alliance, have since told The Standard that striking a workable compromise is the best way to end the deadlock.

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