We must level the political playing field to consolidate our fledgling democracy

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It is a common saying that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. It is no secret that there have been immeasurable sacrifices of blood, sweat and tears, leading us to the victory attained on December 1. It took some politicians to be arrested, tortured and jailed coming out with life threatening sicknesses. It took some journalists to be arrested from their work places, tortured and jailed while some forced into exile leaving behind their loved ones under grim economic situation. It took some parents bear the pain of losing and missing their sons and daughters who became victims of Jammeh’s recalcitrant rule and atrocity.

In addition, it took many Gambians, youth and women especially to defy all odds, threats and intimidation of post-Jammeh victory to have been marked by targeted arrests and killings, just to ensure that victory was attained. This victory must therefore be seen as a collective one and not an individual or one that belongs to a specific group. Be the GDC, the Coalition or even the APRC, this victory belongs to all. It is a victory we cherish and must be ready to jealously safeguard for posterity. This victory is the victory of democracy, the victory of the rule of law and above all, the victory of respect for fundamental human rights and liberties. This victory is an epitome of a revolution which calls for not only a change of government but a total breakdown of a governance system and the reordering of society itself as Mary Mcauley explains what a revolution means. Therefore, we voted for not only government change but more importantly system change.

Mr. President, it is indeed alarming and worrying that our teenage democracy once raped by a gang of military bandits in July 1994, rejuvenated on December 1 seems on the verge of being threatened by state institutions that are expected to hold the values of the cherished system we have collectively restored. It has been on the social media recently that, opposition Gambia Democratic Congress has been denied permit to hold a political rally in Brikama; reasons best known to the police if ever it has happened. This was confirmed by the party’s Communication Officer on his Facebook wall although no written document has been officially seen publicly to authenticate this claim and we have also been told that the party was able to hold a rally. If this report of initial denial is anything to go by, it must be made clear that the GDC is a legally existing political organization accorded with all the rights as enshrined in section 25 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to freedom of assembly-both individuals and groups; among other rights such as joining political parties.

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Such rights are sacrosanct and must not be taken away without any tangible reason that law and human mind can accept. Mr. President, we who opposed and detested Jammeh style of ruling, especially his crackdown on political opponents, suppression of dissenting views geared towards holding his government to account, should not under any given circumstance allow a replica of such anti-democratic system of governance. Then opposition parties, especially the United Democratic Party have been the biggest victim of police denial of permit on the routine excuse of ‘security reasons’. We have all witnessed the consequences of such denial few years ago in the famous Fass standstill, when the UDP entourage was denied permit to go on a nationwide tour.

Narrating how the UDP were constantly denied permit to hold rallies, a senior executive member told me in an interview that the party once had to organize a political rally which coincided with Ousainou Darboe’s birthday. The meeting was held on the pretext of celebrating the party leader’s born day. This was an open denial of the party’s right to assemble which contravenes the very constitution which guarantees the right of every person to assemble without arms. Such denials of the exercise of such rights formed part of the triggering factors for the change of government expected to go along with a complete system change thereby representing true revolution. Indeed, Gambia will never go back to what has been the order of the day, where their rights can be seized without any justification. Impunity and denying political parties permit to communicate with the electorates should be a thing of the past if the New Gambia is anything to go by. As a concerned citizen, I would like your government to ensure that the political playing field is level for all political parties to communicate with the electorates all geared towards consolidating our democratic gains.

We hope that your government will continue to avoid the Jammeh style intimidation, harassment and violation of the rights of political opponents. Political liberalism we believe will characterize our fledgling democracy. Whether the denial claim is true or not, precedence should not be set.
Mr. President, it has also been reported that the leader of the same party, Mamma Kandeh has been invited by the police for questioning for allegations he made in a political rally in Essau that, ministers in your government have started misappropriating public funds, diverting them for personal use. Even though Mamma’s allegation is considered by some as irresponsible and out of touch, it must also be noted that the allegations are political and we expect those same politicians to respond if they wish. But again, Mamma did not mention any particular individual, rather he said the ministers.

However, I am of the opinion that, if any minister feels the GDC leader has made false allegations against him/her, then the individual has the right to take legal actions against him. One thing I am opposing is the police interfering by questioning him. Certainly if our democracy is to be built, then state institutions and personnel, especially the police and military must leave politics to the politicians. We should not allow the restoration of Jammeh’s care free style of using state personnel to intimidate political opponents. Some have argued that the questioning was done by the police for them to investigate further into the allegations and possibly take actions. Well, this is beyond human understanding considering the nature of relationship between politicians in power and security forces in Africa.

I do not and cannot accept this as the reason for the questioning. This is why we have called on your government to make the asset declaration of ministers public for the sake of accountability and transparency. Mr. President, we cannot allow our democracy to be threatened again. We must not only stop at building a strong democratic system, but ensure that it is consolidated for posterity. Oppositions must not be seen enemies but partners in development.

Yours in the service of the nation
Essa Njie

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