By Omar Bah
At least six political parties have reacted to the sensational rejection of the draft constitution at its second reading at the National Assembly after it failed to secure the backing of 42 members.
A total of 23 lawmakers yesterday voted against the draft constitution after days of debate that will be remembered for its bitter wrangling.
A ‘YES’ vote would have paved the way for a referendum and possibly a new constitution that could give birth to a new Gambian republic.
In his reaction, the spokesperson of the United Democratic Party Almamy Taal said the 1997 constitution was perfectly designed for “a day like this where the majority will want one thing but the small minority will scuttle that process. If 50+1 was the threshold in the 1997 constitution, this constitution would have passed but now everybody has seen it. All the political parties are on one side apart from the APRC and NRP and the MPs that were expelled from the UDP one side making a lot of noise.”
“For us we feel that this should not be politicised at any level and we feel it is extremely important that we spend this transitional period to be as creative and as collaborative as possible. It is now for the president in particular who has been raising objections about this 2020 draft to come up with some creativity or strategy for a way out because those who feel this is in their interest are not genuine democrats,” he said.
Taal said the CRC “cannot do anything with the draft constitution now” adding that all they can do is to clarify or explain queries and meaning of provisions.
Suggesting the way forward, Taal said: “In the context of this transition, I think what would make sense is to make a fresh new law to be called The Gambia transitional law Constitution Act to enable this constitution to go back to the people so that it has a full circle. It came from the people, it should go back to them and then Gambians will have the opportunity to vote for it. The other option is to amend the CRC Act where a new road map will be set out and of course all these will meet the 1997 constitution on their way. But I am arguing for legal innovation here; for constitutional flexibility or some legal creativity because I am sure many lawyers will argue that any attempt to amend the 1997 constitution now will be resisted just like the draft constitution has been resisted.”
The Gambia Democratic Congress leader, Mamma Kandeh said the decision of the lawmakers who rejected the draft acted based on politics and not national interest.
“It is very disappointing that the lawmakers have rejected the draft. But this is not a surprise to me because, frankly, there is no transition because the government has never taken the reforms very seriously. It is very sad that we have spent D116 million in vain,” he said.
The APRC spokesperson Musa Amul Nyassi said: “When I said I was going to reject the draft constitution I meant it. I am glad some of my colleagues at the chamber have listened and they tried to find out why I came up with that conclusion and thank God when they followed the concerns, they came back to me to say there is nothing that will make them pass this draft. So they were confident beyond reasonable doubt that it was not the best document that Gambians were yearning for. I have no objection to a bill that will amend the simple majority clause and make it 50+1. I also have no issues with the two-term limit. I believe it is all about promoting our democracy. It is up to the government to look at what are some of the concerns that people have as far as the 2021 elections are concerned and bring it before parliament. We can look at it and if you see that it represents the interest of Gambians, we will vote for it.”
Nyassi said the best option now would be for government to come up with amendments to the 1997 constitution. “I am totally against repealing the 1997 Constitution. My position has been we look at the 1997 constitution and amend anything that we feel was brought in and was not a good law. We would have saved resources and energy,” he added.
The leader of the Gambia Moral Congress, Mai Ahmad Fatty said: “As expected, the bill has been rejected by a negative vote of 23, with 3 abstentions. Some 116 million Dalasi just thrown into the toilet by 23 MPs, along with more than money’s worth. The draft will not proceed and the 1997 Constitution rules. I am bereft of words. Back to the trenches once more. The struggle continues…”
The Gambia Action Party first deputy leader Omar Beyai said: “It is a blessing for the entire country that the draft constitution is rejected. It is our position that the total overhaul of the 1997 constitution is a waste of resources and time. Our position has always been to look at the 1997 constitution and make changes where necessary.”