By Omar Bah
Members of the National Assembly are under immense pressure from Gambians at home and aboard who have taken to social and convention media cautioning them against killing the draft constitution currently tabled before them. This loud chorus of concern and apprehension came after some members threatened to vote against it because, according to at least one of them, its retroactive application of the two-term limit will affect incumbent president Barrow who can only contest in 2021 and no more. Other NAMs criticised what they called ‘plagiarised portions’ of it from other countries’ constitutions while others query its provision of citizenship. One member even said he preferred the 1997 to this new one being tabled.
The hostile reception to the bill has sent shivers down the spines of many Gambians who feared that partisan politics could blind the members to the bigger picture which is the aspirations of the Gambian people to usher in a new era with better laws. Many Gambians argued that while they admit there may be issues with the document it however reflects the views of the majority of Gambians who were consulted by the CRC. The latest calls come from group of concerned youth associations in The Gambia, comprising dozens of pro- democracy groups who have written an open letter to National Assembly members urging them to put political party interests aside and pass the draft.
In a letter signed by Baboucarr Nyang, the coalition of youth groups demanded that the lawmakers support the constitutional and electoral processes to their logical conclusion.
“As concerned and patriotic youths, cognizant of the far reaching and devastating implications of the rejection of the Bill, we urge you to vote ‘YES’ in support of the draft during the second and third reading as a ‘NO’ vote would tantamount to an endorsement of the 1997 Constitution and betrayal of the trust as sovereign citizens of The Gambia.
As our representatives, you passed the Constitutional Review Commission Act, 2017, setting in motion an inclusive and participatory constitutional building process. The Constitutional Review Commission, pursuant to its mandate and after extensive consultations with the stakeholders and a cross section of the citizenry produced a people-centred constitution. It is not a matter of contestation that the draft constitution is a representation of the will, wishes, and aspirations of the Gambian people, the people at whose behest you serve.
That the current coalition government used constitutional and electoral as key messages during the 2016 presidential campaigns and it is noted the majority of the National Assembly members were part of the coalition of parties that came together to form government thereafter. It is your solemn responsibility as our elected representatives and servants of the people to be guided by the dictates of conscience and national interest,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, Gambians from many diverse places have taken to social media to warn members that failure to pass the bill will erode credibility in Gambia’s claim to open a new democratic era. The Citizens’ Alliance yesterday added its voice to the calls in a statement which reads:
“We urge all honourable members of the National Assembly to put national interest first and vote for the bill of a new Constitution for the Republic of The Gambia (Promulgation Bill) to pass. Citizens’ Alliance also reminds our honourable members that they have a clear, well defined binary choice: to vote for the past and invite dictatorship or to enforce democracy and bright future by voting in favour of the Promulgation Bill to pass. Our collective destiny as a nation is in your hands as NAMs. Gambians believe that you will be guided by the dictates of your conscience and the supreme interest of The Gambian people, the people who elected you to represent them. Do what is right and let Gambians decide their future in a referendum.
When in December 2017, the National Assembly established a Constitutional Review Commission as part of The Gambia’s Transitional Justice Framework, the primary mandate of the commission was to smoothly free The Gambia and Gambians from the much tailored 1997 Constitution. The CRC was assigned to come up with a new Constitution for the Republic of The Gambia. After a series of consultations with Gambians at home and abroad, the CRC finally submitted the consensual new Draft Constitution to the president. As required by the Constitutional Review Commission Act 2018, the Ministry of Justice published the national document in the Gazette in May 2020 and subsequently presented it to the National Assembly in August 2020.
The Constitution Promulgation Bill 2020 is now before the assembly to debate on its principles and merits and to subsequently vote for it to be passed to the next stage. This vote will be symbolic to every Gambian as it will determine the destiny of our country. Our honourable lawmakers can decide to vote for the bill to pass or reject it outright. The former choice means ushering our country into a new era of democracy, human rights rule of law and development. The latter will mean transporting us back to the dark days of dictatorship with far reaching consequences.
As a political party, we fully support the draft 2020 Constitution as it is progressive, legitimate and way better than the 1997 constitution. The process was inclusive and transparent. It reflects the wishes and aspirations of the Gambian people.
We thank the CRC for doing a brilliant work in drafting a progressive Constitution. We thank the President and his cabinet for doing the right thing by presenting the Draft Constitution to Parliament. We thank our international partners who have supported The Gambian people during this process. We therefore invite our Honourable National Assembly Members to keep this process alive and moving asa historical service rendered to our country.