(JollofNews)—The Gambia is at a crossroads. The party in power has demonstrated its total incapacity to free the people from impunity and poverty.
However, its administration cannot end peacefully unless a process is put in place which would enable the vast majority of people, who do not want impunity or poverty to vote for change.
The combined opposition in the Gambia has never had 50 percent of the vote. Hence the task of bringing about change is not one of simply unifying opposition supporters. That would not suffice. Change would only come when the vast majority of people, irrespective of party affiliation, are drawn by a process they have faith and confidence in, to vote for change.
Those who want change should have open minds to listen to all views, consider all shades of opinions and subscribe to what they have discerned, in their own mature judgment, to be workable at each given moment, as dictated by reality, times and circumstances. People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) has respect for every sovereign Gambian and the exercise of right to freedom of association to promote any democratic cause as one deems fit. We have no qualms with the Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in the Gambia (CORDEG). What then is the point at issue?
When Dr Abdoulie Saine communicated with the secretary general of PDOIS to express the desire to hold a discussion some months ago he was told that PDOIS was engaged in a village to village tour to exchange opinion with the people in order to know what they want and what they think of PDOIS’ programme on how to end impunity and poverty.
He was told that unless we complete this exercise the party would not be able to engage in any dialogue on the political situation in the Gambia. There was no ambiguity in our position. It was as plain as noon day. The meeting of 23rd February was news to us which we gathered after it happened. Nobody informed us of such a meeting.
The Point At Issue
On 1st March 2015, CORDEG issued a Press Release indicating that its executive members met “with UPD, PPP Leaders and PDOIS Representative.
The Press Release added: “Hon. Ousainou Darbo, Hon. Omar Jallow (OJ) and Malik Kah of PDOIS’s European Chapter, met on 23 February 2015 with CORDEG executive members to discuss important matters relating to the scheduled 2016 elections.”
PDOIS has since clarified that it had no meeting with CORDEG. We have conducted our investigation and are satisfied that all PDOIS members are fully in agreement that no PDOIS member could represent the party in any negotiation without a mandate from the Central Committee. We have put our house in order and could assure everyone that such development would never arise again. For the avoidance of doubt it needs to be reiterated that Malick Kah had no mandate to represent PDOIS and did not represent PDOIS at the meeting. Hence CORDEG should adjust its records and its Press Release by expunging PDOIS from the pact it formed with the two party leaders. PDOIS upholds the principle of unanimity in decision making. Even the members of the Central Committee, the Secretary General included cannot issue any statement without vetting by each member of the Central Committee. This is why all take ownership of decisions. The PDOIS branches are fully conversant with the principle of unanimity and that of subsidiary when it comes to the functions and relations of party organs. That however is not the end of the matter. According to CORDEG “The meeting lasted one hour and thirty minutes and brainstormed on the following pertinent issues:”
On Electoral Reform
“1.Electoral reforms, the political party leaders emphasised the imperative for a root and branch reform of Gambia’s electoral system in order to create a level playing field and to guarantee the credibility of any polls prior to the next Presidential and National Assembly elections in 2016/17. CORDEG has agreed to jointly design a comprehensive advocacy strategy to address the deadlock that ensued since the opposition parties tabled a set of reform demands to both the government and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in 2012.”
The Press release conveys in black and white that the two leaders have reached an agreement with CORDEG to jointly design a comprehensive advocacy strategy to address the deadlock that ensued since the opposition parties tabled a set of reform demands to both the government and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in 2012.
Suffice it to say, If the two opposition party leaders had indeed entered into a venture with CORDEG to jointly design a comprehensive advocacy strategy to address a dead lock on electoral reform as mentioned in the release, then their act would constitute a breach of confidentiality.
Since, CORDEG issued its press release none of the Opposition party leaders mentioned had issued any clarification on the wrong notion given to the public by CORDEG which cannot be allowed to shape public opinion. Hence we take it that they have exercised their sovereign right to take their own stand on advocacy for electoral reform in collaboration with CORDEG.
In that vein, we are compelled to point out that, before the meeting of the 23rd and the issuing of the press release by CORDEG, six opposition parties did expend high grade intelligence, energy, money and time, for months, in order to collectively produce a high grade comprehensive programmatic document on constitutional and electoral reform and did go further to agree to meet on 7th March 2015 to set the date for signature as well as, to formulate an advocacy strategy geared towards propelling and accelerating our common initiative to fruition.
We had agreed not to discuss any subject matter on electoral reform until we dispatch the document to the relevant stakeholders. This is why CORDEG’s press release motivated PDOIS to address the following letter to our colleagues on 6th March 2015:
“The Central Committee of PDOIS has reviewed a press release issued by an organisation called CORDEG, which gives the impression that some Party leaders have discussed with CORDEG, what we have been discussing for months and have gone as far as to assign CORDEG the responsibility of doing advocacy for electoral reform for the opposition, which is precisely a main agenda in our discussion scheduled for Saturday, 7th March 2015.
The press release indicated among other things that three parties were involved in a meeting with CORDEG. Since then PDOIS has dissociated itself from such an event. However, we have noticed that other party leaders mentioned have not done the same. We have tried to reach Mr. Darboe [Ousainou] by phone to request for postponement of the meeting scheduled for Saturday, 7th March 2015 until we get clarity on statements issued in CORDEG’s press release. In this regard, we have no option but to request for a postponement in writing.”
For your information, the press release from CORDEG reads:
“UPD, PPP Leaders and PDOIS Representative Hon. Ousainou Darbo, Hon. Omar Jallow (OJ) and Malik Kah of PDOIS’s European Chapter, met on 23 February 2015 with CORDEG executive members to discuss important matters relating to the scheduled 2016 elections. The meeting lasted one hour and thirty minutes and brainstormed on the following pertinent issues.
1.Electoral reforms, the political party leaders emphasised the imperative for a root and branch reform of Gambia’s electoral system in order to create a level playing field and to guarantee the credibility of any polls prior to the next Presidential and National Assembly elections in 2016/17. CORDEG has agreed to jointly design a comprehensive advocacy strategy to address the deadlock that ensued since the opposition parties tabled a set of reform demands to both the government and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in 2012.”
2.United Front, there was also consensus around the vital need for a united front, to include all opposition parties, to contest the 2016 elections. CORDEG has been tasked by the opposition party leaders present, to make concrete proposals to all the opposition parties, on building a tactical and strategic alliance between opposition parties and we have agreed to do so in the next couple of weeks, following consultations with the wider Diaspora. All participants at the meeting agreed that a united front is crucial, in order to maximise the chances of the opposition to defeat the incumbent.
A united front of the political opposition will also encourage the building of unity between and among the Diaspora opposition organisations. CORDEG has a series of planned meetings to engage with other Diaspora organisations in the coming weeks, in order to widen participation in the process and to strengthen unity around our common aspiration for democratic revival in the Gambia.
A united front will allow every willing stakeholder to take an active part in the decisions leading to the building of a united front for 2016 and beyond. CORDEG aims to build an inclusive platform to achieve wider participation by the Diaspora.
3.Fundraising, the meeting also discussed the important matter of raising funds, to effectively address the chronic shortage of resources that has held back the ideas, activities and actions that can make meaningful impact in our struggle to restore democracy in the Gambia. The meeting agreed that with all the will in the world, and even following electoral reforms, a united front will fail, unless substantial funds and other forms of resources are mobilised to support and sustain the struggle. CORDEG will be submitting fundraising and other resource mobilisation proposals to stakeholders for their consideration and possible adoption, following a comprehensive needs assessment that will include both the Diaspora and all the opposition parties.
4.Unity Summit; CORDEG proposed to host a London summit of all stakeholders in the summer of 2015. The meeting believes that such a summit of Gambia’s opposition leaders, in partnership with other strategic stakeholders, could agree to a united front by signing-off on the proposals for a tactical and strategic electoral alliance, as well as a Compact with the Gambian Diaspora to support, promote and provide funds for a sustained campaign against the Jammeh regime.
Further meetings are scheduled in the coming weeks and months which we envisage will include other opposition party and Diaspora leaders.”
Colleagues could observe that the first item discussed touched on electoral reform. The press release indicates that they have discussed about reform and have agreed to jointly design an advocacy strategy with CORDEG.
PDOIS is of the opinion that the efforts we have collectively made to formulate and advocate for an opposition party driven electoral reform agenda is being derailed, when we have already worked out all the modalities to make it possible. Saturday was set aside to plan when to give our final approval to the proposals and adopt the advocacy strategies necessary to pursue them to fruition. We are convinced that once our initiative is seen to be externally driven as portrayed by CORDEG in its press release we would have lost the battle before we even start.
The Central Committee of PDOIS is requesting for a postponement of the meeting so that it could engage in consultation with all concerned stakeholders in order to find ways of preventing our initiatives from being seen to be dictated by groups based outside the country. We will issue a statement in response to the CORDEG press release and may mention how far we have gone with the negotiation on electoral reform to confirm the genuineness of the unalloyed initiative of the collective opposition in the Gambia. Please take note that any day on or after Saturday, 14th March 2015 would be ideal for us.
“I note that you intend to issue a statement on the CORDEG press release on behalf of PDOIS which I believe is perfectly in order only as it relates to PDOIS representation at the meeting.
I request you not mention how far we have gone with the negotiations on the electoral reform. Any statement on this should be made by all parties that have been attending the meetings and not by PDOIS alone whatever its views may be on the “meeting.””
While we respect Mr Darboe’s observations ,the PDOIS leadership would be disregarding national interest to consider itself bound by the principle of confidentiality which had circumscribed the two months negotiation of six opposition parties aimed at preparing a comprehensive programmatic document for constitutional and electoral reform, when the atmosphere necessary for the new initiative to sprout has been clouded by a new utopian agenda, which is similar to what derailed a similar initiative in 2013 , which PDOIS chose not to make an issue of public debate , at the time, to avoid being accused of trying to derail a viable Diaspora initiative. History will not pardon us if we repeat the same mistake.
Hence we will not hesitate to tell the whole world that a comprehensive programmatic document on electoral and constitutional reform has been prepared and is ready for signature. At least, we can say this much and not go into the details. This is the first point. Secondly, we have decided to put our advocacy strategy in the public domain to distance ourselves from the agreement of the two leaders with CORDEG.
PDOIS’s Position On Advocacy Strategy
Obviously, the authority to amend the constitution and electoral laws to ensure Electoral and Constitutional reform resides in the executive and the National Assembly. Only Cabinet and National Assembly members could introduce bill for constitutional and electoral reform. Hence PDOIS would recommend that proposals of the opposition be lodged with Cabinet and the National Assembly whose members are responsible of bringing bills to the National Assembly for their enactment into law.
Key partners are the International, multinational, continental and regional bodies that had played a role in monitoring elections or providing financial, technical, material or logistical support to the Independent Electoral Commission. Hence copies of the proposals should be lodged with the UN, the AU, ECOWAS and the EU as the main partners as well as the Commonwealth as a matter of courtesy, Jesse Jackson who accepted to be a mediator and our neighbors, to promote good neighbourliness.
Goodwill Ambassadors Of The Opposition
PDOIS would propose that the two people who were given the responsibility to put together and table the proposals for adoption be appointed as good will ambassadors of the opposition since they are best equipped to explain and defend the content. They should be assigned the responsibility of delivering the proposals to all the stake holders without relying on any intermediary and hold press conferences where ever they go, to highlight the proposals of the opposition.They should be made to subscribe to a code of conduct which would confine their terms of reference to the mere submission of documents to stakeholders and explaining the content of the proposals to the media without straying into any partisan or propagandist escapades in promotion of a political party or political ambition.
All parties should select one individual to represent them in a financial committee aimed at costing each trip in order to prepare a budget for the delivery of the proposals to the respective stakeholders. The total cost of the initiative and all pledges in kind by way of air tickets, economy class and hotel accommodation or cash for the same purpose, shall be published for public notice.
The sum to be raised shall be restricted to the budget and once it is raised the fund raising exercise would cease. Monies received shall be accounted for by each of the party representatives in the financial committee and lodged in a bank. Credible financial measures shall be put in place to ensure public disclosure of funds received and used. The account established shall be audited and then published for public notice. Nobody other than the committee set up by the political parties will have the mandate to raise funds for the advocacy exercise.
Once all the proposals are delivered the mandate of the goodwill ambassadors would cease and political parties would continue their party advocacy activities on their own party platforms to sensitise the public on the content of our proposals and the progress made to further its realisation. This is PDOIS’ stand on the advocacy strategy for electoral reform. The content is for all the stakeholders to make public.
On United Front
According to the press Release “United Front, there was also consensus around the vital need for a united front, to include all opposition parties, to contest the 2016 elections. CORDEG has been tasked by the opposition party leaders present, to make concrete proposals to all the opposition parties, on building a tactical and strategic alliance between opposition partiesand we have agreed to do so in the next couple of weeks, following consultations with the wider Diaspora.”
CORDEG proposed to host a London summit of all stakeholders in the summer of 2015. The meeting believes that such a summit of Gambia’s opposition leaders, in partnership with other strategic stakeholders, could agree to a united front by signing-off on the proposals for a tactical and strategic electoral alliance, as well as a compact with the Gambian Diaspora to support, promote and provide funds for a sustained campaign against the Jammeh regime”
PDOIS’s Opinion On A United Front
It is interesting that CORDEG has been tasked to formulate and make proposals on how to form strategic alliance and convene a meeting in UK in the summer. We would have thought that the parties would tell CORDEG what they need to do on the ground to make a united front viable. PDOIS has made it very clear that if Gambians do not want to engage in a political expedition which would lead them into the political marsh only to drown them into the sea of disappointment, they should move away from the top down approach to alliance building which has failed since 2006. We need to adopt the bottom up approach.
PDOIS has said that the surest way for change is for the political parties to spend their days and nights among the people so that they would build a support base which is larger than that of the ruling party and continue to work for electoral reform to restore the second round of voting among other reforms, which may or may not be realised. It is the masses who are to bring about change. Hence their mobilisation and organisation to vote for change is what is of strategic significance. This is the decisive factor. Electoral reform is of tactical significance. Its effectuation or otherwise, may enhance or pose obstacles to electoral success. However, when the masses are determined no force on earth could stand on their way.
PDOIS has observed that if there is electoral reform and the second round of voting is restored, the opposition would not need to decide on a single candidate, the people would do that for them by depriving the incumbent of victory in the first round. The opposition leader with the highest or second highest number of votes could then be supported by all those who want change, as has happened in Senegal.On the other hand, if there is no electoral reform these strong opposition parties who combined would have attracted more than 50 per cent support base among the electorate could meet and select a candidate to face the incumbent.
Hence PDOIS’s proposal is for members and supporters of political parties to lend a hand to the grassroots activities of their parties. These parties should proceed to prepare their primaries and select their candidates so that the public would know them. This is what will get us closer to change. What we need is Gambians who are convinced that the parties they support are worth supporting. Just imagine if 1000 Gambians give US$1000 each to the party they believe is worth supporting. The party would have a million dollars in its coffers to finance its campaign. This is D47 million. Any party which cannot make a difference with such a sum should have its leaders exposed by its members and sent to the cleaners.
Hence we should go beyond Obama’s slogan that ‘Yes We Can’. We cannot make a difference until we become resolved. We must make a difference. “We must” is the slogan for our times and circumstances. Hence, make your choice of party that is worth supporting and do so to make a difference. Support what is worth supporting and make a difference! That is the clarion call.
On The Role Of The Diaspora
Gambia has many knowledgeable and experienced daughters and sons in the Diaspora, academics, and professionals in all fields, technicians and seasoned workers. Any party which could lead the country to build a middle income country would need their participation. In 2005 and 2006 remittances were considered to be the second largest source of foreign exchange amounting to D1.7 billion in 2005 and D1.8 million in 2006. The Diaspora is too important to be ignored, either by the government or by the opposition.
PDOIS has informed the Diaspora what it could do to take its legitimate stake in shaping the destiny of our homeland but no one appears to be listening.
Let us take this opportunity to conclude by reiterating our position again. We have said that the Diaspora should hold sovereign national conferences and prepare Diaspora based programmes for enfranchisement so that they could vote like all nationals living outside their countries, advocate respect for human rights in the country and promote electoral reform on their own Diaspora platform.
The sovereign national conferences could elect representatives who could also meet to select working groups based on competences. This would enable party members and supporters in the Diaspora to work in the working groups set up in their areas and serve both the Diaspora and their parties without any conflict of mandate. The Diaspora should be able to send goodwill ambassadors to the Gambia to meet the ruling party, the opposition, civil society, The IEC and the Media and produce reports which could inform the opinions of all stakeholders. If the IEC says that money is the obstacle to the enfranchisement of the Diaspora, funds could be tapped to make that realisable. In the same vein, if a United Front candidate becomes necessary the Diaspora could finance a caravan where all the party and independent presidential candidates could be given a platform in all the administrative areas and the level of public approval assessed before negotiation. We could go on and on. We hope the Diaspora would reflect on this fundamental truth that power only concedes to superior power. No state could be changed without either superior military power or superior people’s power. There is no third road other than that of adventurism. Those who do not wish to kill their way to power should have faith in the people. No body can go against the people and win.
We hope the Diaspora would listen. We are not against any initiative. However, we have mapped our own programme. We intend to finish our village to village tour, hold our congress to adopt a manifesto, hold a primary to select a presidential candidate who will have the duty to issue a statement on every thing the current executive says or does and put those statements side by side with that of the executive for distribution to all schools in the country to promote informed choice. When the executive is holding a jamboree in one part of the country we would be holding our sensitisation concerts with progressive songs and drama.
Hence those who support PDOIS should be focused on its programme. This is the way forward.
Halifa Sallah is a leading member of the Gambia’s opposition People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) party. He was the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly of the Gambia and a member of the Pan-African Parliament.