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Monday, September 21, 2020

The electoral process in The Gambia: A giant stride in the makings of a viable and stable political system

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In most parts of the world today, democracy still appears to be the most popular and an acceptable form of government. There is hardly any leader who does not wish to be seen as a democrat or a regime that does not seek to be described as democratic even when such a regime has a depiction of dictatorship.

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The means by which such democratic forms of government are brought to exist is by “the electoral process” or “the electoral system” and this takes place or occurs in a state when elections are held periodically for the country’s citizens (i.e. the registered voters) to freely choose their choices of representatives into elective and/ or political offices for a peaceful formation of government.

Anyaele, (2005: 239-240) posits……… “The Electoral system is a process and procedure by which citizens of a democratic country select through either direct voting or indirectly those to represent them in the parliament and other positions in the government”

He identifies four principal forms of electoral systems and they are Universal Adult Suffrage, Male Suffrage, Property Suffrage and Tax- Payers Suffrage.

The “Universal Adult Suffrage Anyaele describes as an elective system that allows both men and women to take part in voting so far the elective principles regarding age, clean bill of worthiness, non-bankruptcy, non-criminal record(s) and the likes are not debarring factors, and it is universal because it is widely accepted and used anywhere and in any electoral system in the world, regardless of sex, creed, tribal affiliations and political belongings.

The male suffrage allows only men in the state to take part in voting, either to vote or be voted for. Property goes with only those who possess certain level of wealth and assets like houses, factories and other luxuries and that of the tax-payers reflect evidences of tax payments to the state as revenues to the state.

Anyaele further identifies certain characteristic features as potent conditions for the adoption of a viable electoral process and these include an established impartial and independent commission or electoral body that conducts free and fair elections, others are holding of periodic elections, presence of functional civil society groups, pressure groups and a viable party politics. We also have removal of fears of molestations, victimisation and intimidations, comprehensive voters’ list/ register, level playing ground for all and sundry as well as equal opportunity for all.

Consequently, it is therefore quick to say that the electoral process is a voting system that is systematically organised with laid down principles that are in line with a democratic order for the achievement of good governance in a state.  King (2000) observes “A country’s electoral system is the method used to calculate the number of elected positions in government that individuals and parties are awarded after elections”. According to him, it is the way that votes are translated into seats in parliament or in other areas of government, for example, the presidency.

 King remarks that different electoral systems are in use around the world, and even within individual countries, different electoral systems could be found in use in different regions and at different levels of government such as elections to school boards, city councils, state legislatures, governorships/ gubernatorial and so on.

Ball, (1983:91-95) implies, “An electoral system consists of more than the methods of counting votes cast by the voters”. He posits that a full description of an electoral system would include such factors as the extent of the franchise, which is who is entitled to vote, and it would include the rules relating to candidates and parties and those regulating the administration  of elections, especially the provisions against corruption”[18]. The word corruption mentioned here might be referring to all those atrocious political practices that are unconstitutional and which constitute serious setbacks for a peacefully momentous transition, and which inflame the very fabric of the structural functioning of a democratic process as they include election riggings, political assassinations, opposition annihilations, money politics and bribery.

Reynolds, (2004:87) elaborating on the importance of electoral systems generally says …”The set of democratic institutions a nation adopts is integral to the long-term success of any new regime, because they structure the rules of the game of political competition,” stressing, among those democratic institutions and which of course are presumed pivotal are the electoral systems. To him, an electoral system helps to determine what party system(s) is to be adopted in the state, forms of electoral process, is it: “the first-past-the-post” type or the proportional representation form of constituency delimitation, how the electoral process is to be designed and so on. Reynolds regards an electoral design, coining from the views of other scholars and electoral experts as the chief lever of constitutional engineering to be used in mitigating conflict within divided societies as well as the only available institutional instrument suitable and effective for changing the nature and hallmark of a given democracy. He emphasises further on the three main jobs the designing of an enviable electoral system does in a democracy, and according to him, the process helps to translate the votes cast in an election into seats won in a representative chamber or parliament, either by throwing more weight behind proportionality or funneling the fragmented votes among parties into a much diverse groupings in the parliament. Secondly, it is the conduit by which the elected members of parliament are held accountable and made responsible and thirdly, it is a means by which the boundaries of acceptable political discourse are structured and streamlined in giving value – added incentives to party competitions and jostling for their voters’ votes that will compel the parties’ candidates to responsive and responsible mandates’ fulfillments on winning elections. These merely emphasize the rationale underpinning the very importance of choosing and adopting the rightful electoral process that is so unique and indubitably relevant to an ideal democracy and its settings.

In The Gambia, this uniqueness is the issue and this paper makes a critical survey of that uniqueness in the small nation’s electoral system and how the two regimes the country has had so far since the independence time have succeeded in utilising the adopted voting ideology in helping to sustain the country’s democratisation process. The paper explores the strategies and processes the Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara of the First Republic 1965-1994 and the Sheik Prof Alhaji Dr Yahya AJJ Jammeh of the Second Republic, 1994-date adopted and how these strategies and mechanisms have helped in the conducts of various elections held so far as well as the dynamics and pragmatic flexibilities exhibited in their party politics for a sustainable Gambia’s peace enjoyment and process.

Having understood the electoral process as analysed above as the most significant and viable means of effecting a change of government with decorum and or as an institutional mechanism for genuine democratisation, it is indeed pertinent to observe that the processes followed and the strategies that attended these processes and mechanisms, state by state, tend to differ and of course constitute a source of worry, most particularly in Africa. Most African nations affected by this problem are found to be organising poorly conducted elections. This poor state of elections’ conducts in part attributed to adopted electoral system and in whole underpinned by flagrant and undesirable electoral malpractices, mitigated by over ambitious political intents, usually on the part of the politicians and their associated collaborators. Often times, regimes in power are fingered as being responsible for most crises that greet the aftermaths of election results that are confronted with serious agitations, contestation and disputes.

In Africa, such election crises generate ignominious and deadly violence that lead to losses of lives and properties, which in turn cripple the successful transition process while inflicting political violence and social mayhems. In The Gambia, the situation is different as conducts of elections since independence time to date have always been controlled and orderly, in spite of political differences and party divergence, which characterize the country’s body politic, at least, compared to what we see happening in Gambia’s neighboring states and the rest of the Ecowas sub-region and the entire Africa.

The Ivorian, Kenyan, Cameroonian, Guinean, Zimbabwean, Nigerian and Ugandan cases are no exemptions in this respect, given the enormity of violence eruptions that greeted their elections and which swept off many lives from the surface of the earth and have many properties wasted away. Indeed, some degenerated into civil wars of international dimensions where peace keeping efforts are required to quell crises and offer humanitarian services or assistance to the displaced citizens. The Ivorian, Kenyan and that of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are typical instances.

In Kenya, for example, in December 2007, election crises that occurred after that year’s presidential elections sparked off tribal violence that claimed more than one thousand lives and massive destructions of properties between the dominant Kikuyu tribe and the Luo. The current and newly elected Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, were fingered in the crises and are currently facing charges of war crimes and genocide in The Hague, Netherlands with the International Criminal Court (ICC) currently headed by a Gambian-born international jurist Mrs Fatou Bensouda. In November 2010, the presidential elections that was held in Cote’divoire and which was presumed to have been won by the opposition candidate Mr Alasana Quatara, but, believed to be rigged by then incumbent, Mr Laurent Gbagbo, a former university history don, also degenerated into deadly crises of civil war, during which over three thousand Ivoirians were killed, several millions were displaced and made homeless, and properties worth millions of dollars were destroyed. The country’s economy was devastated by the war and its foreign earnings from cocoa, its main exports dropped sharply. Laurent Gbagbo is also facing trials at the ICC for war crimes and genocide.

In Uganda 2011, the conducts of elections in that country also, under President Yoweri Museveni culminated into violence that led to killings of hundreds of people and the clamping down on opposition figures and their subsequent silencing. In 2013, the Zimbabwean elections did also occur with pockets of violence that led to the withdrawals of the main opposition figures including their leader Tsvangira to form government of national unity, after the latter accused the country’s ruler, Robert Mugabe of manipulating and rigging the presidential election. Mauritania, Madagascar, Burkina Faso, Angola, Ethiopia (AU headquarters) among others are equally not exempted from pockets of violence in aftermaths of elections conducts, such of which arose following series of agitations and contestations coming on the heels of purported riggings that regimes in power were accused of perpetrating.

Nigeria’s case is not an exemption also, when in 1993, the annulled presidential general elections, by the military president General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida and presumed to be freest and fairest and won by the Late Mooshood Kashimawo Abiola nearly tore the country into pieces. Several lives were lost, properties destroyed and total breakdown of order greeted the length and breadth of the most populous black nation until Babangida was forced to stand down so as to avert another civil war. That not alone, from 1999 to 2007 during the civilian regime of chief Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo, a onetime military ruler also, several election results contestations as a result of wanton massive rigging, perpetrated by the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, and his ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party of Nigeria did occur and generated crises of political assassinations, protests and tribal clashes. Poorly organised elections are also attributed to this unpleasant development in Nigeria’s political history and process. Level of political corruption and electioneering process were so severe to the extent that even regime in power was believed to be tampering with election tribunal judgments up to the supreme court level.

Germane in this respect was the third term bid perpetrated by former President Obasanjo after successfully completing the constitutionally permitted two terms in line with Nigeria’s electoral laws. It was so severe that money politics and bribery were scandalously demonstrated at the national and party levels for him to realise his objectives. At the end, parliamentary proceedings refused his bid and he was forced to step down for elections to hold. Within his party ranks, the PDP, Olusegun succeeded in choosing his successor and deputy in the persons of the Late President Musa Yar’Adua and Dr Goodluck Jonathan now the sitting president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The duo later contested both primary presidential general elections in the country and won on the ticket of the PDP. One would have expected a better improvement in the electoral process from violence to non-violence but reverse was the case as massive riggings and political corruption continued unabated. Political associates that embezzled their state’s monies while serving as governors such as former James Ibori of Delta State put down gigantic amount of money to assist Yar’Adua and his running mate in the sponsorships of their presidential campaigns. What else do we expect as anything good from that election’s result?

 Musa Yar’Adua died in office two years after and his Vice, Dr Goodluck succeeded him, ruled till 2011 when he himself chose to contest as president during which he was duly elected on PDP’s ticket back to the office of Mr President.

Since assumption of office, frantic efforts have been made to curtail the surge of election corruption as many rigged polls were genuinely rectified especially at other levels of governance other than presidential.  Meanwhile, Dr Goodluck Jonathan’s election was also marked by sporadic killings in the northern parts of Bauchi, Gombe and Adamawa typical of ethno- religious crises where hundreds of National Youth Coppers (majorly Christians) who were working as electoral officials were murdered as retaliations for the election of a Christian president from a minority oil region of Bayelsa.  These are not expected in party politics where the real game is played according to the rule and where sentiments, bigotry and ethnocentrism are not allowed or encouraged by people in the corridors of power. Today, the activities of deadly insurgency group otherwise called “Boko Haram” have pervaded in the extreme north-east of the country of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa where several thousands of innocent citizens mainly women and children have been casualties.  

School girls are captured for sex slavery, women are raped in their homes, their husbands are killed in their presence and their farmlands are destroyed, all happening in a political process with the largest economy in Africa, but with nothing to show for this because of political corruption.

With the on-going national conference in Abuja, which was inaugurated by President Goodluck Jonathan some months ago to address disparities and misrule in governance process of the country, acceptable restructuring modalities are likely to be put in place to help the current regime re-organise the political system including the electioneering aspect that will guarantee a viable and stable political process for Nigeria, the beacon of Africa.

With discussions and dialogues among the people and by the people, most electoral crises generating wars and conflicts in Africa can be adequately contained and resolved for a peaceful political process to endure and sustain. This will be attainable when the political class is prepared to be patriotic enough with its members shunning greed, avarice and politics of calumny and brutalities.

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