There have been claims made during the campaign season for the recently concluded National Assembly elections that if the parties to the Tactical Alliance approach did not win a combined majority in the National Assembly, then the Barrow-led coalition government will have an antagonistic assembly to contend with, which if challenged could impeach him. Are we witnessing a vindication of such claims just mere days after the process has ended?
Going by statements made by Halifa Sallah at his recent press conference, one could be forgiven for making such observations. Blame it on the choice of words or a misconstrued statement, but what he said is a statement of clear intent. And for a man so composed and so skilled at oratory, his words are always very carefully chosen and his statements cannot be easily passed off as gaffes at any time. I may be limited in my knowledge of his political life but I cannot recall reading anywhere that he ever retracted a public statement or apologized for having made a mistake in his choice of words. The point I am trying to make is that his words are always carefully chosen for precision, an asset to a politician.
Now, at the press conference, Halifa stated;
One problem that has been averted is the problem of threatening the executive in terms of legislative interventions. He said the National Assembly could pass a vote of no confidence on the executive but that could only be done with 2/3 majority. He said the 31 seats occupied by the United Democratic Party do not provide the legislative cloud to be able to threaten the executive. He said the same composition cannot give any particular party to make any Constitutional amendment without being passed by the 2/3 majority of the house members. However, he also said with the 31 seats of the UDP, if all of them refused to support any bill in the parliament then the other members cannot pass such bills. (www.standard.gm)
Why would it be a good idea to threaten the executive? Were there plans afoot to move a motion to pass a vote of no confidence and effect a change in leadership? The statement even calls into question the integrity of the members of the National Assembly, who Halifa assumes will not vote their conscience or the interest of the nation but will only vote along party lines. Why does the PDOIS have a Holier than Thou perspective on anything Gambian? The mere belief that only the PDOIS members are informed enough to put the national interest first is a fallacy and is lacking in humility; being a party member has already ingrained an ideology in you, the ideology you believe is the best for the country. Thinking that that is the only approach is insulting to the other stake holders at the very least. It is too soon to pass judgement on these members even before their first test. We should not be judges of character, just actions.
Less than three months after assuming office amidst the worst transition ever, it is disappointing to note that the main issue on Halifa’s mind is the length of time Barrow serves as president. For a man lauded as the Republican Constitutionalist of the highest order to speak of “injecting” a clause into the constitution in order to make the coalition MOU a constitutional instrument is disappointing too. Regarding the 3 year mandate as agreed upon by the coalition partners; he stated that constitutional amendments will be required in order to make legal Barrow’s resignation after 3 years.
He stated; “But at the moment that provision is not in the Constitution therefore as it stands, Barrow has a 5 year term. But if it is injected in and he agrees then he would be able to resign after 3 years and presidential election would be held.”
So what is the problem if the sacred constitution is not being infringed upon? Oh I get it, Barrow’s credibility. If Barrow decides to honor the terms of the MOU, that is commendable and will be welcome in many quarters. But if he decides to stay on to fulfill his constitutional mandate, the only dent that may be made will be to his image but the laws of the land will not be infringed upon in the slightest. That being the case let us focus on the institutional reforms and worry about crossing the 3 vs 5 year term bridge when we get to it.
Should we point to a lack of foresight at the drafting of the MOU or something sinister? If anyone else other than Barrow became the coalition flag bearer and subsequent president of the republic, could we say with certainty that there will be an “injection” into the 1997 constitution as is being advocated now? We can only speculate. One thing is clear though, Barrow was not an expected winner as flag bearer.
On the other hand, isn’t the whole debate around the appointment of the Vice President hinged on this notion of “injecting” clauses into the constitution to favor a certain approach; who was the loudest advocate against such a move? Suddenly it is convenient to tweak the constitution a little bit. By the way, in this specific situation, such an amendment will only be temporary because if all goes well we are not expecting another coalition of this nature. With a thriving democracy, which we aspire to; the political landscape will be ideal for healthy rivalry. The immoral law of setting an age cap on the other hand, will tackle discrimination in that sphere for good. But that is only looking to favor a certain individual which we cannot have, right?
And then comes my favorite; the political subterfuge hinged on fear mongering. We all know that across the political spectrum in The Gambia, everyone is in support of the introduction of presidential term limits as well as reforms to eliminate the simple majority first-past-the-post winner that currently obtains. So why is it constantly being drummed up in our ears that there is a potential for the reintroduction of tyranny/dictatorship or self-perpetuating rule?
…the objective of the Coalition as far as PDOIS is concerned is to put an end to self-perpetuating rule and build a democracy which will allow the supreme Gambian people to make an undiluted choice of leadership. This is what directed PDOIS in terms of the National Assembly election so as to fulfill that three year mandate to be the bright example of how self-perpetuating rule would be amputated for good from the politics of this country. It was our conviction that if President Barrow leads the example of limiting his own term then no other leader will ever emerge again that will go beyond two terms,”
In that regard wouldn’t the most important bill before members be the bill that introduces term limits for the president? Because in passing that bill, the problem will be solved once and for all, and FOREVER. In that statement too is the projection of the all too familiar PDOIS political grandstanding; alluding to the notion that without PDOIS in the National Assembly, such a feat could not be accomplished; that is mere speculation yet again; another way people feel insulted. The December 1st 2016 choice that the supreme Gambian people made was undiluted. This is one reason why people are taking issue with Mr. Sallah’s statement that Gambia is yet to decide. The decision of December 1st 2016 was probably the most important decision Gambians will ever make. The agenda was sold to remove Yahya, it was bought with no dilution. The same will be true in the new democratic dispensation, politicians sell their agenda and programs, voters buy those that appeal to them and in the process give mandate.
Here is my take; how many elections can The Gambia afford with her meager resources and dried out coffers? Part of the recommendations made by the election observers was to organize the Presidential and National Assembly elections in such a way that they coincide on the same day; this will save costs and reduce voter apathy. The turnout we now know is much lower for the National Assembly elections than was the case for the presidential elections.
So let’s say Barrow resigns in 3 years, 90 days later there are fresh Presidential elections in 2020, two years later there will be fresh National Assembly elections as the current mandate runs out in 2022. The next president’s mandate will run out in 2025, another 3 year period from the preceding National Assembly elections whose mandate lasts till 2027. Factor in the local government and council elections as well as the impending referendums to amend some of the entrenched clauses in the constitution; we are set to be going to the polls on an almost yearly basis. It is unsustainable, at some point someone else’s mandate has to be cut short or the constitution tweaked some more.
You prescribed a dose of humility for Barrow when you said “…the first humbling would have been to concede to the 3 year term agreed by the coalition…” this same dose I prescribe for you too Honorable Sir. I have no doubt that you mean well for The Gambia and her sovereign people and we Gambians owe you a debt of gratitude for your years of continued sacrifice and advocacy for our collective rights. But every once in a while it is a mark of humility to concede to popular will, especially when laws are not violated or rights impinged upon; we will get to that promised land but it is a gradual process and lots of concessions have to be made along the way.
We certainly do not want a rubber stamp assembly but the other extreme of that scenario that none seems to bother talking about is an antagonistic one that seeks to hinder every legislation out of spite, that too we do not want.
So I ask, is it gratifying to be the lone voice of opposition even when it seemingly is not necessary?