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Saturday, March 6, 2021

Resurrecting the draft constitution

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Recent moves to resurrect the draft constitution are a welcome development. From the word go, most Gambians have held the view that voting against the draft will go against the wishes of the majority of Gambians.  This is so because the entire process happened with the full participation of the people whose inputs were reflected in the final draft. And knowing that no constitution, even in the so-called biggest democracies is perfect, the stakeholders, except for the politicians, were ready to make compromises to let it pass, not least because it is the single most important thing to show that we are truly committed to transforming our nation to a better society after the upheavals of the last 22 years.

However, the politicians, in this case a minority of them in the National Assembly, using or misusing their powers, acted as tools of their masters to vote against it. After the draft was killed in the Assembly, there was widespread celebration among the government sympathisers in the Assembly and elsewhere leading the opposition to conclude that the rejection of the draft in the Assembly was masterminded by the government. It did not at the time occur to those who killed the draft that they had made a self-inflicted mistake because the very credibility of this government’s much-talked about reforms, depended on this document. The last minute appeal from the international community for the Assembly to pass the draft fell on deaf ears and was considered to be interference in the internal affairs of the country.

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Now though, the Gambia Government and its political sympathisers seem to have, upon reflection, realised that the constitution is an indispensable tool to any serious democratisation process and that the much-discredited 1997 Constitution can no longer represent the wishes and aspirations of the majority of the people who voted it into power in 2016. It has now initiated a dialogue among all stakeholders seeking a consensus on contentious issues in the draft such as the tenure of the president and powers to the Assembly among other things. It has also invited former President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria (is that not foreign interference?) to lead the mediation. Good move, but with the current entrenched positions taken by political players in this matter, it would not be hard to believe that even Goodluck Jonathan needs some good luck to make a breakthrough.  The behaviour of some parliamentarians in allowing themselves to be controlled by political masters now means that any bill requiring a two-thirds majority to pass would be impossible to pass. Meaning that if the majority of National Assembly Members who voted for the draft are not happy with any new amendments to it, they could simply vote against it. That is the price a nation pays when its representatives disregard national interest for political interests.  That is a very heavy price indeed.

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