By Omar Bah
If the new constitution is adopted as published last week, President Adama Barrow and UDP leader Lawyer Ousainu Darboe could both have their political ambitions affected.
In the case of President Barrow, the new constitution is proposing that he could only run in the 2021 election and not any more.
This is because the draft proposes a two five-year terms for a president, beginning with the term the constitution was passed. In this case, the current term of President Barrow will count as his first term, meaning that even if he so desires, he cannot run in 2026 even if he does win in 2021.
Clarifying these and other issues to The Standard yesterday, the chairman of the Constitutional Review Commission, Justice Cherno Jallow said when this constitution is adopted and takes effect, the current term of the president will count in the five-year period.
“So, this means that the current president can only serve for a maximum of ten years. He can’t serve more than ten years,” he said.
He said in other countries this clause has been left opened leading to much controversy. “We made a lot of research in this very carefully and listened to what the people have said to us and we have consulted our experts on this subject and there was unanimity at the research and the consultation stage that this is something we needed to address,” Jallow said.
Asked if the constitution is delayed beyond 2021, whether this provision will still apply to Barrow, Justice Jallow replied: “That is out of our hands. I cannot determine what the future holds. All I can say at this stage is that we have been given a mandate and we have been given a period within which we should deliver that mandate and obviously every reasonable person will want to believe that if we are given 18 months to deliver and we delivered, then the logical remaining courses to make the constitution effect will be given effect in an expeditious manner. I don’t want to believe as reasonable persons that I and my fellow commissioners would be given 18 months and then somebody sits on the constitution for another period of 18 months; that doesn’t make any sense to me.”
In the case of the leader of the United Democratic Party, Ousainu Darboe and host of others, they could be barred from contesting for Presidential elections by the new constitution if it gets passed at a referendum on the grounds that they were once convicted.
According to subsection (2) (b), of the draft constitution, a person convicted by a court or a tribunal of competent jurisdiction of an offence involving dishonesty or immoral conduct; or any other offence for which the prescribed penalty exceeds twelve months is disqualified for election as President.
However, the disqualification mentioned in subsection (1) (e) does not apply if the conviction has been overturned on appeal or if the person has been granted a pardon in accordance with this Constitution.
Explaining this further and without directly mentioning the case of Lawyer Darboe and Co, the Chairman told The Standard : “What that effectively means is if you were charged for an offence which carries a penalty of more than twelve months whether you actually receive a sentence below the twelve months or more, you are still barred from running for the office of president. In other words, if you commit an offence today in any country and the penalty for that offence which you’ve been charged is more than twelve months, that means upon being convicted for that offence even if you received six months you are still barred because the prescribed penalty is more than six months. So, we are looking not at the sentence but at the penalty that is attached to the offence”.
Asked whether those convicted before the new constitution comes into effect will be affected, Justice Jallow replied: “This is prospective. It takes into account a certain circumstance. But the fact of the matter is, it also made specific provisions that if you are involved in a certain activity within a specified period. It doesn’t matter whether it is after the new constitution came to effect or before; you will still be caught under that provision. And one of the beauties of publishing such draft for people to read is to invite comments because people might feel differently about it. So, if people feel otherwise, they should let us know. But generally, what people have been telling us during the consultation is that one has to be 100% clean before he or she can contest for a presidency,” he added.