From the run up to the coalition build up, we were led to believe that the United Democratic Party (UDP) was unwilling and uncommitted to a united front when the newly elected presidential candidate was on the campaign trail while talks were ongoing for what would later become Coalition 2016. Although the party was well and very competently represented at those negotiations, the picture was painted of a party whose desire was to lead by all means only for leadership’s sake.
When the primaries concluded with the UDP nominee emerging as flag bearer, there was dissatisfaction in many quarters even though all participants were satisfied with the process. The dissatisfaction was overshadowed by the need to oust a vicious tyrant and the unity needed as a prerequisite had been achieved. Any attempt at discrediting the elected candidate would have undermined the united front and that would not have been well received, so that dissatisfaction was shelved, but not for long.
In the build up to the December 2nd, 2016 presidential elections, nothing; ABSOLUTELY NOTHING was more urgent or more important than ridding The Gambia of the tyrant Yaya Jammeh. All focus, and all efforts were directed towards that single goal and it overshadowed the preparations needed for the National Assembly elections that were due immediately after the presidential elections.
With the tyrant defeated, that oversight regarding the National Assembly elections stood out. the coalition partners had to map out a strategy for contesting the elections. Two opposing strategies were proposed; and independent led strategy where all candidates vying for the various seats will not represent any party but rather contest as independent candidates like the presidential candidate did upon his election as flag bearer for the coalition. The other approach was a tactical alliance in which parties will assess their strengths in the various regions and all member parties to the coalition will back the strongest party’s candidate in a particular region. The majority of the coalition partners agreed to this strategy. The dissatisfaction that was earlier shelved was brought out to take center stage.
This, more than anything else best explains the bellicose towards the UDP; the seeming constant triumph to get things go along the path most favored by the party at every turn. It has gotten to a point where we now hear such nonsense as party politics; the very bedrock of any successful multi-party democracy being touted as detrimental to our progress as a nation; sentiment-driven arguments flooding our discourse yet again.
The audacity to hold a position and advocate for its adoption by the majority in an open and democratic manner is the crime that the UDP is guilty of; daring to hold a position contrary to that advocated by the PDOIS, the advocates for the independent-led camp. Patriotism in the new Gambia it seems can only thrive on abandoning political parties for individual ideas and views, and for that reason the UDP has failed the test; hence an unpatriotic establishment that hijacked the coalition to serve its political agenda of dominance. At least that is what the opponents are saying.
Lest we forget, at the time of the National Assembly elections, the APRC and the GDC were both active in politics and not affiliated with the coalition, the coalition agenda of reforms would be greatly hampered if not all together impossible should they take the lead in the national assembly elections.
Coalition candidates backing each other based on strength was the ideal formula to deny the other parties a majority; of course some parties, namely the UDP has more support than the rest of the coalition partners hence more candidates will be UDP representatives. That dominance is what is also being branded as attempts at introducing a one-party state. Do proponents of such notions even know what a one-party state is, or what multi-party democracy entails? Maybe fear mongering is the new norm to win hearts and minds where persuasion fails.
Tactical alliances are not a new concept coined by the UDP, in fact the PDOIS advocated for a tactical alliance as a strategy post 2011. In their own words outlined in their manifesto the PDOIS stated; “The PDOIS aimed for the United Front to collaborate with the UDP led Coalition to contest seats which had a chance to win so that the opposition would have either more than one quarter of the votes in the National Assembly to be able to stop constitutional amendments or more than a half of the seats to be in control of the national assembly.”
So what changed in that time to warrant such vilification of the UDP? Like any story, there is always another side. If the UDP’s plot was to hijack the coalition towards selfish ends as claimed by those opposed to the party, will it be fair also to assume that the UDP was onto the sinister plot aimed at undermining the party’s dominance and acted accordingly? After all, claims that there is no such thing as the largest party is prevalent. Add to that the attempts at coalescing against the UDP by various players in subsequent elections and there are clear indications that the party is constantly being undermined.
What is noteworthy in all this is the fact that the UDP represents the aspirations of a vast majority of Gambians, Gambians to whom the party’s policies and agenda appealed and who in turn gave support. If the UDP is undermined, it is in fact the aspirations of those Gambians that is actually being undermined.
Political parties are the vessels aboard which are housed the people’s aspirations, respecting individual aspirations and the associations that emanate thereof are cardinal in strengthening democracy and not the other way round. So let us lay off these bogus claims of democracy being undermined by the dominance of a particular party; that dominance in fact points to shared aspirations.
Let us debate policy and in the process strengthen our political institutions thereby strengthening our democracy and cease the constant doomsday falsities.