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REPORT WARNS DEEP POLITICAL TENSION IN 2026

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By Omar Bah

A report published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), an African organisation which aims to enhance human security on the continent, has revealed that President Adama Barrow’s candidature in the 2026 presidential election would deepen the country’s political tension.

The ISS, which is noted for its respected independent and authoritative research, providing expert policy analysis and advice, further noted: “So far, he hasn’t been definitive on a possible 2026 candidacy, but the potential for a controversial and destabilising third term cannot be ruled out. Nevertheless, another Barrow run would certainly deepen tensions, creating political problems that could require an Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) intervention – as happened during the December 2016 and January 2017 post-election crisis”.

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However, ISS said that if Barrow decides not to run, this “could reduce tensions and provide a political impetus for restarting the transition. Such a decision would require Barrow to select a successor, which would no doubt spark divisions in his National People’s Party and among allies who may either have presidential ambitions or favour particular individuals.”

Constitutional reforms

The ISS also delt with another issue in The Gambia’s political scene, the draft the constitution.

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In September 2020, the National Assembly rejected the draft, which was the product of a two-year consultative process involving Gambian citizens, including those in the diaspora. That rejection has had significant implications on the whole transition process.

According to the ISS, ‘continuing to govern under the 1997 Constitution risks undermining the efforts of the Gambian people and international partners. “Renewed instability, six years after Ecowas intervened in the country, would further erode the institution’s credibility as it struggles to manage political crises and unconstitutional changes of government in West Africa,” it added.

The report said The Gambia could become a model for democratic governance in a region affected by coups, democratic backsliding and political instability because the country’s democratic potential is clear from its formulation of a draft constitution anchored, among other things, in human rights, the rule of law and institutional checks and balances.

“External partners and many Gambians view the draft constitution as ‘the mother of all reforms.’ It provided the basis for security sector reform, transitional justice and judicial and other institutional changes. The draft also introduced presidential term limits, curtailed presidential powers and strengthened judicial powers and the Independent Electoral Commission,” the ISS said in praise of Gambia’s draft constitution.

“The draft limited the president to two terms of five years each, consecutive or not – meaning Barrow would not be eligible to run in 2026. As candidate of the coalition that defeated Jammeh, he promised to step down after a three-year (2017-2020) transitional period, but then ran for another term in December 2021. The main opposition, the United Democratic Party (UDP), has expressed support for the rejected draft and vowed to oppose any amendments. However, Barrow’s political allies in and outside the ruling National People’s Party (NPP) reject a retroactive application of the presidential term limit, saying it should start from the date the new constitution is adopted,” the ISS said.

It observed that the draft constitution also introduces higher requirements for presidential candidacy and electoral victory with a presidential candidate needing an absolute majority of valid votes.

“Moreover, for the first time, Gambians in the diaspora would have the right to participate in both presidential and parliamentary elections. Proposals for a separate diaspora constituency were, however, rejected,” it noted.

The report added: “For Barrow and his allies, winning an absolute majority in future elections could prove difficult. The NPP, formed in 2020 following Barrow’s decision to end an alliance with the UDP, doesn’t have enough support for a one-off victory on its own. In April 2022, it failed to win a convincing majority in the National Assembly elections. The party currently holds 24 of the National Assembly’s 58 seats, including five nominated by Barrow.”

The draft constitution also subjects the president’s nominations of ministerial posts, key law enforcement and security positions, and the Chief Justice, to approval by the National Assembly. The president would also no longer be able to nominate some National Assembly Members. A total of 53 (of 69) members would be elected from single-member constituencies, 14 women would be voted for separately (two from each administrative area), and two members would be nominated by the national federation for persons with disabilities.

“Disagreements over these and other provisions, including those on the Gambian state’s secularity or otherwise, mean the country remains governed by its 1997 Constitution, also known as the Jammeh Constitution. Mediation efforts, including those led by former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja, have failed to break the deadlock,” the report noted.

With no clear strategy and roadmap for restarting the reform process, the report added, the absence of term limits under the current constitution makes Barrow legally eligible for another term.

“Post-Jammeh, The Gambia has an opportunity to reshape its politics, institutions and governance. But this can only happen if the country’s political actors and external partners urgently work to end the current stalemate. Political actors especially should demonstrate greater sincerity, adopt a collaborative and consensus-building approach, and be prepared to compromise on thorny issues,” the report stated.

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