By Matida Jallow
The proceedings of TRRC cannot be recollected without remembering the name Essa M Faal. In the heydays of TRRC sittings, Essa Faal became a household name across the country, as he was widely known for his critical questioning and probing that has turned very comfortable soft armchairs, placed for the witnesses, to uncomfortable boiling pots. Although Mr Faal was widely admired for his bold and decisive position towards perpetrators, it was barely imagined that a man whose popularity in the country was linked to his role in TRRC would nominate himself as a presidential candidate in the upcoming election. Against all odds, and in defiance to the criticisms from his admirers, Essa Faal took a bold and irreversible decision to declare himself as presidential aspirant, while disregarding the some-how valid accusation that he exploited his TRRC gained popularity to pursue his political ambition.
Initially, Mr Faal’s unexpected introduction to the political arena was hardly conceived as a threat to any existing political parties, not alone the party of the sitting president, NPP. Nonetheless, within the span of one month, Essa Faal was able to extinguish political flames both the newly established youth oriented party Citizens’ Alliance (CA), and one of the oldest political parties in the country PDOIS, whose primary admires and targeted population (youths and self-claimed educated people) are being gradually swallowed by the Team Essa Faal across the country. As the phenomenon of Mr Faal garnered more attention in urban areas as demonstrated in his relatively well-attended rally in Buffer Zone, his emergent acceleration in popularity posed additional threat to Barrow’s NPP, which can automatically translate into a golden opportunity for the United Democratic Party.
Until recently, Barrow’s sole conceivable and honest-to-goodness opposition party and arch-rival has been UDP. For both imaginary and genuine reasons, Barrow and his NPP supporters, as well as government ministers alike, consciously plate UDP and its leader as their irreplaceable political subject. The political discourses of NPP consistently feature criticism to UDP, and the defamation of its party leader as well as blaming the political activities of the party for the increased public outrage to President Barrow’s government. Likewise, the activism of NPP has been focused on the strongholds of UDP, and where UDP poses threat to NPP campaign goals. These include the entire region of WCR with exception of Foni which remains a battle and a neutral ground for both parties despite the NPP-APRC alliance, KMC, some regions of NBR and CRR South respectively, while places like, Banjul, some regions of NBR, CRR South and many regions of URR, where NPP feel at ease with the their seemingly soring popularity, remain reserved for NPP, to a great extent.
Nonetheless, this equation is being altered to the disadvantage of NPP, and to the advantage of UDP with the trending popularity of Essa Faal in the strongholds of NPP. Generally, the loyalties of electorate and their political affiliations are defined not only political agendas of parties but also by certain social factors to a great extent. These last consideration has given NPP a comparative advantage over UDP in places like Banjul, certain quarters of KM, the whole regions of CRR North, larger parts of URR and some parts of NBR. However, this is no longer a valid distribution of NPP political bases, as NPP is being challenged by the encroachment of Essa Faal into these regions, where both youths and women of different age brackets are ditching NPP for Essa Faal. This is being felt by NPP leadership; hence their political messages and targets are equally divided between UDP and Essa Faal. The recently launched attacks of President Barrow and Hamat Bah on Essa Faal during the just concluded “meet the farmer’snb. tour” is an evidence their realization of the challenge posed by Essa Faal to their primary political interests.
Thus, the attention of NPP has now split between UDP and Mr Faal, who has conquered many regions listed by NPP as its strongholds. This represents a rare opportunity for the United Democratic Party, who is expected to be partially relieved from unnecessary criticisms from NPP camp, and the subsequent counter response from UDP to NPP. As NPP might be contemplating about neutralizing the impacts of Essa Faal in NPP strongholds, with exception of URR, UDP can seize the dissipating political activities and calculations of NPP to cement its presence in its own strongholds (the entire LRR, lager parts of WCR, KM, NBR, CRR South and some parts of URR, where NPP might be partially withdrawing to counter the pressing influences of Essa Faal and GDC respectively in its strongholds.
Additionally, the gradual acceleration of Essa presents another opportunity for the United Democratic Party to reorient its political messages to ensure that its large youthful population remain loyal to the party, as UDP, unlike NPP, possesses qualified and competent personnel who have equal or more academic credentials, international work experiences relative to Essa Faal, and who can deliver messages that resonate with the aspirations of the ambitious youths.
However, the question remains whether UDP would adjust itself to this dynamism in Gambian politics in its bid not only to overwhelm NPP, but also to neutralize the influence of Essa Faal on the party’s youth population.