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Is the Coalition 2016 Co-Chair Trying to Save Face

Coalition 2016 Leaders

With The Gambia’s first-past-the-post system of voting, the only assurance in ousting an entrenched incumbent was to pool the opposition votes into one unit rather than having them fragmented between various parties. This was successfully done thanks to the efforts of various stakeholders with the leadership of the co-chair Mrs. Fatoumatta Jallow Tambajang. Coalition 2016 was born and with it ended the 22 years of tyranny in the Gambia presided over by former president Yaya Jammeh when Gambians went to the polls on December 2nd 2016.

With the ouster of the tyrant, suspended political differences emerged and the Co-Chair of the Coalition 2016 has been attempting to reconvene talks for a revival of the coalition spirit.

The first attempt scheduled for Friday April 12th 2019 was hardly attended requiring a reschedule for Monday April 15, 2019. One of the main players and leaders of Coalition 2016 released a statement dissociating itself from the talks. “The Media is hereby informed that PDOIS is not part of the conversation and its leadership had already requested the convener not to include it in the conversation.” As a key stakeholder, the exclusion of the People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) alone is enough to stall the talks, but they are not alone. UDP, whose candidate became the nominated candidate and subsequently won the presidency, is not interested in the talks either effectively killing the talks.

But the million dollar question is; why do we need a revival meeting? To what end? In Mrs. Tambajang’s own words; “as a coalition we want to remain as a family and speak with one voice.”  As vague and unrealistic as this sound, it will help to lay out a few facts that would have hindered any talks.

Coalition “convener” discounted one central fact and further complicated her position on Friday.

First; President has indicated severally that he has no intention of stepping down at the end of three years nor is he willing to not run again as was expected of the nominee for flagbearer.

Not only that, President Barrow has fired from cabinet positions almost all the leaders and members of the parties that coalesced around him to have him elected as a unity candidate, including the convener herself with no reason advanced and the only obvious one being political.

President Barrow has, over the past several months taken swipe at individual party leaders in a not so veiled attack as a strategy to consolidate his position. Since his swearing-in and especially of late, President Barrow has increasingly being antagonistic for his own personal ambition’s sake, numerous statements and actions abound as evidence.

With that is mind, President Barrow going into that “revival meeting” would mean going in on the defensive for not showing any inclination or desire to abide by the terms of Coalition 2016. He has, over the past several months claimed all credit for himself in ousting the dictator, no thanks to anyone else.

It would be unrealistic if not foolhardy to expect President Barrow to honor any invitation aimed at reviving the coalition because the realization of that unity will mean he has to ditch his already advanced plans of self-succession. Can’t say if Mrs. Tambajang was expecting that of Barrow, but as the one holding the key, what talk of unification will materialize if he was unwilling to do as was expected of him?

The situation became more precarious when, prior to all stakeholders gathering Mrs. Tambajng told reporter that “the creation of tactical alliance led to the disarray in the coalition.” This also puts another set of stakeholders led by the United Democratic Party (UDP) on the defensive.

In the run up to the presidential elections of December 2016, the modalities for contesting the subsequent National Assembly and Local Government elections were not laid out in the MoU prompting the need to convene another meeting during which two contesting strategies emerged and were subsequently voted on. An all-independent (unaffiliated to any political party)National Assembly to work with the president; or a Tactical Alliance where the various parties to the coalition will not field candidates who will compete for votes in a single constituency but will back each other’s candidates. Out of the 7 political parties plus the Independent candidate, 5 voted in favor of the Tactical Alliance, one abstained and one voted in favor of the independent led National Assembly.

This, according to Mrs. Tambajang was the cause of the disarray reechoing sentiment expressed in many quarters. But from a negotiation perspective, already majority will be on the defensive, so a clear path ahead would be impossible to attain with the stakeholders going in with such opposing stances.

For argument’s sake, let’s agree that in fact the creation of the tactical alliance broke the coalition. Next logical question is how so? What mechanisms were put in place to ensure the MoU was adhered to and should there be any deviation what modalities were put in place to correct course? How did the adoption of the tactical alliance approach hinder any of those mechanisms and modalities?

The spirit of the coalition is well understood; unity and suspension of political ideology for a period. But is it realistic when the affairs of a nation are political in nature? Again let’s say its realistic that in fact such could be the case, was the whole coalition formula not riding on the goodwill of its stakeholders in honoring a so called gentleman’s agreement? How much trust goes into that kind of expectation?

On the other hand, what if, at the drafting of the MoU there were mechanisms put in place to ensure the agreement was honored and made legally binding? This absence of legal recourse was what former Vice President Darboe highlighted when he said President Barrow could not be forced to resign based on the terms of the MoU. A statement further blamed for the president’s boldness in wanting to stay beyond his agreed upon mandate, but that argument in itself is a case of post hoc, ergo propter hoc, a fallacy in argument. Because with that argument we’re implying that we know what the president’s predisposition was in whether he’d have honored or not honored his word.

The co-chair may be well meaning but a reconvening is pointless at this point.

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