By Omar Bah
Lamin Keita, a PhD political science fellow at Northwestern University in the US, has said that Gambian opposition parties urgently need restructuring or risk further empowering President Adama Barrow.
President Barrow’s National People’s Party (NPP) claimed nearly 40 out of 53 constituencies in Saturday’s poll, giving him a landslide.
Sharing his perspective on the election Keita who comes from Foni Bajana, said the opposition must drastically change their communication machinery because this can be an effective tool in winning hearts and minds.
Mr Keita added that the outcome of the election illustrates that journalists and researchers should focus on who wins elections from the voter registration to the counting process because “the ability to hold leaders to account is the main reason we value multiparty politics”.
“We need to change the way we look at elections and now pay attention to how they can drive controversy and change the focus of government policy – even in situations where the opposition never wins. Free and fair electoral process does not stop at counting, and we are missing the electoral wood if we only bank on the fairness of an election just at the counting,” he said.
Keita said government patronage alone means that the opposition parties are fighting with “one hand tied behind their back”.
“In addition, it becomes a dilemma and challenging to understand why the crowd pulled by the major opposition like UDP did not translate into equitable votes. This is the central point of inquiry for any political scientist to delve into this saga. What are the missing points? What went wrong?,” he asked.
Keita said The Gambia should eliminate the archaic marble system of voting because “if electoral manipulation were a sport, the marble system would be the Olympic champion”.
“However, Gambia’s elections can profoundly affect Barrow’s policy even when he always wins. Still, it is ultimately for Barrow and any other opposition to understand that staying in power is far easier and cheaper if you get some votes legitimately,” he said.
Keita revealed that it is interesting to consider whether international attention has less of an impact now on the conduct of elections in The Gambia. “It may be that the influence of outsiders is waning and that could be as a result of shifting interests and changing priorities among otherwise influential foreign governments and the weakening influence of international organisations. It is easier for incumbents to call the international community’s bluff these days,” he noted.
Keita alleged that there was massive exploitation of resources during the election.
“There should be a campaign finance regulatory mechanism in this country because, in the future, only ordinary people will pay the price of this massive exploitation of their resources. What is most striking about this example of campaign finance is that it escapes public accountability. There is a shred of more robust evidence that anonymous donors of elections can shape government policy,” he said.