By Kofi Ben
It is election year once again and parties have been traversing the length and breadth of the country flexing their muscles with “rented crowds” as a show of popularity ready for the December 4th election. Opinions have been divided and a fierce crowd competition has emerged between the two heavyweights (NPP and UDP). UDP has long been in the game, celebrating 25yrs of existence and has used their wealth of experience in mobilization tactics to gather huge crowds that when seen, one could be easily convinced that the elections were over and Darboe was going to have an easy win. However, their crowds never budged the APRC in the past, who has always emerged winner of elections from 1996 – 2011.
A total dominance that makes one wonder whether crowd reflects their votes. The birth of NPP, which could be described as a breakaway from the UDP has seen another party at the helm of the crowd competition replacing the APRC and pulling substantial crowds at rallies. Interestingly though, on occasions when the President is on an official duty the crowd cannot be seen, leaving one to wonder about his popularity. But hey, it’s the new Gambia and we don’t expect to see a President being followed even when he’s going to the farm but we still have someone blocking traffic whenever he’s returning from the village.
GDC pulled a groundbreaking crowd when it emerged in 2016 and has still been consistent with their raindrop crowd. PDOIS though not popular with crowd mobilization but has been consistent with their party’s philosophy for 35yrs. Despite years of existence, parties like GMC, GPDP, NCP never hold a meaningful rally. If any, looking at the attendance of their rallies, one can see that social distancing was well observed before the Covid pandemic.
The newly-formed political parties and independent candidates have also been making people feel their presence. Citizens’ Alliance’s grassroots approach has seen them knocking door to door on a meet and greet. This approach cannot be underestimated because it was used by Macky Sall during his presidential campaign. GAP Secretary General’s popularity overshadows that of the presidential candidate and leaves many completely puzzled why is he not the presidential candidate. GANU has never attracted more than a hundred people at their rallies but the recent alliance with the renegade APRC solidifies their presence in the crowds space.
Looking at the aspiring independent candidates; Banky, with his agenda to legalize marijuana and make it a cash crop has attracted a sizeable segment of the electorate. Kurang on the other hand has been on tour. The one that stood out the most is Essa Faal, during his rally at the Buffer Zone, looking at his body language, one can observe that he was overwhelmed by the crowd that he saw and it has boosted his aspiration of becoming the next president. He is now joined by Kitabu whom many criticized as a comedian but forgetting that he is merely exercising his constitutional right.
Despite the crowdsourcing, one has to look at the data to be able to forecast the outcome of the coming election because “data does not lie” and with these crowds, one has to separate the wheat from the chaff. Looking at the election results in 1996 NRP (5.5%) UDP (35%) APRC (55.76%). One could ask why did the APRC win the election? Perhaps this leads to many factors but in a nutshell, people at the time wanted change because there was too much corruption, nepotism, marginalization, abuse of office, abject poverty, and the worst of it the gap between the rich and the poor was getting wider or perhaps the voting age was reduced to 18yrs. On the other hand, the coming into force of the APRC replacement of AFPRC shortly before the election in 1996 which had started a development blueprint that convinced many to vote for them.
In 2001, like always, when the nominations were open, parties started canvassing votes throughout the country with huge crowds but the UDP stood out on top and word on the street has it at the UDP provincial end of tour entourage lasted for five hours. And unmatched record in that time. In the end, they were again defeated by the APRC, whose militants will trek en masse from Brikama to Banjul. Looking at the results there was a drop in percentage from the APRC (52.96%) and UDP (32.67%) but an increment for NRP (7.8%) and PDOIS (3.03%).
One can associate the loss in percentage from the APRC and UDP with the entrance of post-Jawara era NCP, which went on to scoop (3.77%) of the votes. The increment of the NRP could be as a result of their FREE VISA policy which was resonating well with the new electorates. For PDOIS, their message was always the same and the new electorates were embracing the party’s policies. After the elections, a single majority bill was passed at the National Assembly replacing the 50+1%. This was a desperate move by the incumbent (Jammeh) as he struggled to reach 50+1% of the votes.
In 2006, the APRC was at the top of their political game, with massive developments in the past 10yrs, not to mention their utopian dream of vision 2020 which was already in full swing. During the crowd contest, none of the parties came closer to the APRC crowd. They had now become a household name and it was either green or no other color. At the end, APRC obtained (67.33%) of the votes leaving UDP with (26.29%). The decline in the UDP might be as a result of the newly formed NADD (PDOIS, PPP, NDAM) coalition.
In 2011, the APRC was unmatched again but there were series of allegations of human rights abuses, disappearance, extrajudicial killings, dictatorship, police state etc. Despite all the allegations, the APRC held firm in power with a landslide victory of 72% of the votes. There was a dwindle in percentage for the UDP (17%) and the United Front led by Hamat Bah had (11%). With these results, one can observe a trajectory fall from grace of the UDP from 35.84% – 17% between 1996 to 2011. This might be attributed to the total dominance of the APRC over the years and losing many of their sympathizers to the United Front.
In 2016, the allegations became a reality and it could be heard from everyone’s lips; disappearance, arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, failed coups, torture, inflation, the country was already an Islamic state and a police state at the same time, and Jammeh had already consecrated himself as a dictator. Before the elections PPP, NRP, GMC, GPDP, UDP, PDOIS, and an independent candidate (Dr. Isatou Touray) formed a coalition led by Adama Barrow except the newly formed GDC. During nominations the crowd contest resumed and the coalition crowd marched the APRC crowd.
If one would tend to equate crowd with votes, he/she would be wrong because “data does not lie.” A simple analysis of averaging the votes of PDOIS, UDP, and NRP will give you a closer percentage as to what the coalition had achieved, plus the hunger for change of the younger generation sums up the outcome of the coalition votes. In the end APRC got (40%), Barrow (43%), and GDC (17%). The loss of the APRC to the coalition was due to three factors: 1) As mentioned earlier was the governing of the country as a repressive police state that controls every aspect of public and private life. 2) The formation of the GDC which is now regarded as a sister party to the APRC, and 3) The low voter turnout which accounts for 59% of the registered voters.
What do we expect in 2021 election?
Despite the crowd competition and the different coalitions, there are two key important factors that will play out in the upcoming elections:
1) APRC, despite losing, still had a strong base all over the country and they are a force to be reckoned with. Their merger with the NPP if fruitful might lead NPP to victory but since there is another faction called “No to Alliance Movement” an outcast of the APRC party might disrupt their votes in some constituencies.
2) The 360,711 (59%) voters AKA the Silent Majority who didn’t cast their votes in 2016. To whichever party they add their weight will likely win the election.
The UDP has been contesting for the past 20yrs and has a solid base all over the country. Its members keep on increasing yearly and with the coming elections, if they should have a fair share of the silent voters, they might be in a close contest with the APRC/NPP. But wait, the GDC AKA the spoilers should not be ignored. They might divide the votes again as they did in 2016. PDOIS always come with the best policy and the right man for the JOB but they might not come closer in the race. For the new parties and independent candidates, according to the data they won’t have anything more than 5% of the votes.