(JollofNews) – Which member of the APRC could defend Elections (Amendment) Bill 2015? Which sovereign Gambian who is interested in defending the rights of the people to form and join political parties and stand for elections support the bill? The Bill is alienating the APRC from the people. This is why it is a tool for democratic change. This is why PDOIS has concluded that APRC is in the defensive and the sovereign people are in the offensive.
Representatives are supposed to serve the people. They rely on the sovereign will of the people to exercise legitimate power. Since power belongs to the people, if the actions of the representatives run counter to the letter and spirit of the constitution, reason and the will of the people , the people reserve the right to utilise their constitutional power to remove such representatives and replace them with others who would abide by their will. This is how matters stand in the Gambia.
For nineteen years the executive did not see the need to step in the shoes of the IEC to review fees for the registration of political parties and fix deposits for candidates. Why then has it decided to use its parliamentary majority to review deposits for candidates and fees for registration of parties, just before the beginning of a new electoral cycle, which are functions assigned to the Independent Electoral Commission by section 134 of the Elections Act,? The Electoral system has four stakeholders, the IEC, the Government, The parties and the people. This Bill was introduced without any validation exercise by a meeting of stakeholders like the IEC and the opposition parties.
PDOIS has made it abundantly clear that it is the expressed will of Section 101 Subsection (2) of the Constitution that Bills are only reasonable and justifiable if their intended purpose is to prevent or remedy defects. No National Assembly member, or member of the executive, has given any reasonable and justifiable explanation of the defects they aim to remedy by increasing deposits for candidates and fees for the registration of political parties. What defect is there in fixing a refundable deposit of D10, 000 for Presidential Candidates? What remedy did the executive expect to provide by proposing the payment of 1 Million dalasi non refundable deposit, before being qualified to stand as a Presidential Candidate , which its parliamentary majority decided to reduce to a sum of D500,000 which is now refundable, if a candidate has forty percent of the votes cast? Will this facilitate greater participation of qualified Gambians as candidates in presidential elections, or serve as an unreasonable restriction to the exercise of their right to stand for elections as enshrined in Section 26 of the Constitution? The answer is simple.
PDOIS is of the opinion that the amendment creates a defect instead of providing a remedy. PDOIS is therefore opposed to this amendment. All those who are opposed to it should continue to say so. If the majority of Gambians are opposed to it and do make their voices heard, without break or seam, it would compel the executive to withhold its assent or serve as a unifying platform for democratic change in 2016.
In the same vein, Section 25 of the constitution empowers every Gambian to have the right to form or belong to a political party, which is a form of association just like trade unions.
It is ridiculous to make it impossible for a group of people to establish a political party unless they pay a fee of D1million and go about the country to register ten thousand members.
Gambia now has one ruling party and six visible opposition parties despite the existing conditions for the registration of political parties. What defect is the amendment trying to address? Will an increase in registration fee to the tune of D1 million enhance the exercise of right by any Gambian to form and belong to a party as enshrined in Section 25 of the Constitution or restrict it? PDOIS is of the opinion that the aim of the amendment is to restrict the exercise of the right to form or belong to a political party. PDOIS is therefore opposed to such an amendment. If the vast majority of Gambians are opposed to it and say so without equivocation, they would become the vocal majority that an executive ignores at its own peril.
The alarm bells have been rung. The people listened and raised their voices but the representatives paid deaf ears to the vociferations of the stakeholders. They are elected to make sure that the will of the people prevails. They did not demand a stakeholders meeting to validate the Bill. They did not go on air to get feedback. They did not bother to use any mechanism to test public opinion. What now prevails is the will of the executive .The existence of the executive is determined by the will of the people. Hence the people will have the last say. What is the way forward?
The Battle Of Will Power and Conscience
The battle of will power and conscience has begun. Each Gambian must take his or her place. The duty is to shape the sovereign will of the citizenry so that they take ownership of the country and take interest in the burning issues of the day. This is why PDOIS did not hesitate to explain the content of Elections (Amendment) Bill 2015 and Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2015 .
First and foremost, we have shown that the minor amendments to the Elections Act which were proposed served as a smokescreen to peddle into law the major amendments which aimed to usurp the powers of the IEC and restrict political participation by qualified Gambians to promote self perpetuating rule. This is why we focused on the major amendments which aimed to restrict the exercise of political rights. A well informed people are a strong people.
Whoever has been keen in reading PDOIS’ statements would know that Section 134 of the Elections Act empowers the IEC to fix fees for the registration of political parties which should be done in consultation with all stakeholders to ensure accountability, transparency and fairness? What are the executive’s motives for unilaterally proposing to increase the deposits and fees without the input of stake holders?
The events which are about to unfold will reveal those motives. In short, the passing of a Bill does not mean that it is enacted. Once a Bill is passed it must be presented to the President for his assent. This must be done within 30 days. The president may withhold assent and send the Bill back to the National Assembly. If it is assented to, the Bill must be published in the Gazette within 30 days to become law.
PDOIS will write to the executive to urge it to withhold assent to the Bill and focus on the proposals and demands of the Opposition for electoral reform as adequate raw material for building a national and international consensus for viable electoral reform. All Gambians and friends of the Gambia should compare the content of Elections (Amendment) Bill 2015 and the proposals and demands of the opposition for electoral reform and judge which is best suited for the promotion of free, fair and genuine elections. Each Gambian should rally behind each of the programmes for electoral reform to propel it to fruition. If the vast majority of Gambians support the proposals and demands of the opposition, and if they make their voices loud enough to be heard the whole world would know what the Gambian people want and this mighty voice of the absolute majority would either evoke political reform which would be relied on to effect political change or serve as a clarion call for a unified platform to evoke democratic change followed by far reaching constitutional, political and electoral transformation.
The executive and its parliamentary majority have overplayed their hands at the right time and have awakened even those who have been in political slumber. All those Gambians who are imbued with a little bit of honesty are now weary of the dangers of self perpetuating rule. We need to galvanise this non partisan platform against self perpetuating rule to prepare the ground for democratic change in 2016.
Finally, the provisions which would govern the registration of political parties would be of immediate interest to PDOIS if the executive assents to the Bill.
The question arises: Would the executive try to implement this provision retroactively? Section 100 Subsection 2(c) of the Constitution states:
“The National Assembly shall have no power to pass a Bill –to alter the decision or judgment of a court in any proceedings to the prejudice of any party to those proceedings, or deprive any person retroactively of vested or acquired rights, but subject thereto, the National Assembly may pass Bills designed to have retroactive effect.”
Of course, nothing is said in the Bill that it would be applied retroactively. Notwithstanding, the IEC should begin its consultation with government right away to know its intentions and convene a stakeholders meeting to inform us of the implications of the Amendments. The retroactive application of the Bill is likely to bring about a major constitutional and political crisis in the Gambia. Early warning signals should be sent to have certainty on the plan of the executive to ensure that the constitutional provisions are not flouted to the extreme to provoke political crisis. We do not want to over react or under react. We want to react appropriately, as an alternative government would react, which has the interest of our people at heart.
Secondly, the concerns of the IEC regarding electoral reform are still not addressed. The issue of demarcation of constituency boundaries, voting by paper ballot, aligning presidential and National Assembly Elections to be held on the same day, abolition of attestations as documents to be considered for registration and the restoration of the powers of registering officers to inquire into all claims for registration, administering oath or affirmation and calling for evidence before approval of claims, etc have not been addressed by the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2015.
Hence there is need for the IEC to invite the stakeholders including the political parties and the government to discuss its electoral reform package so that consensus building on an electoral reform package would start right away. PDOIS will now begin consultation with all stakeholders for consensus building on the way forward.
The executive has its will and aspirations and the people have theirs. If the will and aspirations of representatives run counter to the will and aspirations of the people, the will of the people would ultimately prevail. This is the verdict of history and commonsense and it is incontrovertible.