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Halifa Sallah writes to Hamat Bah

May 8, 2013, 9:46 AM

Hamat Bah

Dear Mr Bah,
On Your  Press Conference and an Invitation for National Debate or Joint Press Conference on the Way Forward By Opposition Parties.
I have been asked by the grassroots supporters of our party to respond to comments you made at your Press Conference which merit clarification. It is my personal opinion that it is not a sign of magnanimity to add insult to injury. Your party has already suffered defeat and you are entitled to make comments to save whatever is left of its integrity and political viability. I am pushed by party members to write because of their insistence that the position of PDOIS which led it to become a member of the Group of Six has been distorted by your comments. They argue that such an unassailable position needs clear and volcanic amplification so that there is no confusion among our members and sympathisers and partners in the Group of Six.  I know the comments will cause collateral damages to your cause and hope that you already know that that is not the objective. All opposition parties need to be strengthened so that the democratic space could be enlarged to enable the people to make informed choice without being subjected to fear or inducement. 

First and foremost, you claim that you did not join the Group of Six in their policy of non participation until electoral reform is effected because of your desire to test the strength of the APRC and to engage it just as Morgan Tsangvirai has engaged Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

Secondly, you claim that the people have told you that the opposition is in slumber in Banjul, an allegation you appear to accept and even made promises that you will be visiting the rural areas more frequently.

At first sight, it would appear frivolous to take up an issue with you on these two positions. The reason is simple. No reasonable person could be convinced that you had the aim to test the strength of the APRC by contesting only eight seats out of 48 seats in the National Assembly elections and 10 seats out of 114 in the Council elections. You did not even put up candidates for the Mayoral seats in Banjul and KMC which could have been used as a yardstick to determine the popular vote. Needless to say, no person in his or her right mind would equate the statue of your party with that of the MDC of Tsangvirai.

In the same vein no one in his or her right mind would say that all opposition parties are in a state of political slumber. It is evident that UDP has been holding rallies before the Local Government Elections. PDOIS of course is ever present as the major human rights defender in the country in the absence of civil society. Its visibility is more pronounced today than it ever was. Hence my personal opinion to the membership was that we should honour your comments with disregard since it amounted to an attempt to cover up unpleasant facts with diversionary comments that were neither here nor there.

However, upon second reflection, I did see the need to take a divergent view in public with the aim of helping you in particular and the public at large to understand that non participation until electoral reform is effected cannot be equated with boycotting elections or creating a political vacuum as you are insinuating. On the contrary, non participation in our context is aimed at weakening the resolve of the ruling party to maintain the status quo by depriving it of any reasonable excuse to shy away from electoral reform. 

In fact, contrary to the impression you had given it is the policy of non participation in a grand style, at the right time in the right context for Zimbabwe which weakened Mugabe and compelled him to yield to the dictates of reason and the popular will by accepting a power sharing deal as well as constitutional and electoral reform. Apparently, you preferred to distort what actually happened in Zimbabwe in order to draw conclusions and lessons from fiction rather than facts, to suit your own justification for participation.

Mr Bah, the facts are as plain as noon day. In 2008 Zimbabweans went to the polls. Tsangvirai of the Movement for Democratic Change won the first round of the Presidential Elections with 47.8 percent of the votes to Mugabe’s 43.2  Percent. Tsangvirai however adopted the tactic of non participation in the second round claiming that the violence and intimidation would obstruct the conducting of a free and fair election. Suffice it to say that Tsangvirai’s party had the majority of seats in the House of Assembly with 100 parliamentarians and 99 Parliamentary seats went to Mugabe’s Party. 10 seats went to the breakaway faction of the MDC.  In the Senate, Tsangvirai’s party held 24 elected seats to Zanu PF’s 30 seats and the breakaway faction had 6 Senate seats.

Here is a person who won an election in the first round after successfully challenging the incumbent but adopted the policy of non participation in the second round. Mugabe proceeded with the second round against himself. He won the second round but lost the elections in the eyes of the world. Being an experienced politician, he decided to acknowledge his defeat and read the minds of the majority of Zimbabweans who wanted Democratic change.  He had to concede to the will of the people or perish.  He decided to respond to the verdict of common sense and history and opened up talks for a coalition government pending constitutional and electoral reform. This is how matters stand in Zimbabwe.

On your part, the outcome of your policy of participation under the present context only proved that your party has no popular base in any part of the country since you could not win a single seat in all the places where you have your strongest political base. It is therefore not fair to compare yourself to Tsangvirai. Political gambling and adventurism and sound political tactics cannot be equated. The lesson of Zimbabwe is very clear and not capable of distortion.

It is the right of political parties to put or not to put up candidates. They put up candidates not to test the strength of a ruling party but to win elections. They demand for electoral reform before putting up candidates when they know that they could win elections but are disadvantaged by electoral malpractices.

Mr Bah, the tactic of non participation is meant to remedy defects in the electoral system to enable the opposition to be as effective as MDC in Zimbabwe in electoral battle even if there are differences in objectives. In Zimbabwe one movement was created and was supported by the majority just to effect change.

The opposition parties met after the presidential elections to go back to the drawing board in preparation for the National Assembly elections. I don’t know about NRP but PDOIS had identified 10 Constituencies where it could have put up candidates and perform up to expectation. The UDP must have done similar assessment. Since you did put up 8 Candidates it is fair to say that the opposition stood a chance to win up to 28 seats in the National Assembly if free and fair elections were to be held. Without free and fair elections the seats are usually reduced to two, three, four or five seats just as we have seen with the Independent Candidates during the 2012 National Assembly elections. The combined popular  votes of the opponents  of the APRC was just approximately six thousand votes less than that polled  by ruling party  but  ended up with 5 out of 23 contested seats.

In order to avert such outcome we decided to petition the IEC and catalogued our grievances such as the abuse of incumbency by the ruling party  in the form of patronage by Public enterprises, the Cell phone companies, foreign investors as well as the utilisation of Public resources and Public office to promote political ends, Violation of the code of conduct for public servants and security personnel and the adoption of  partisan postures by such forces  in favour of the ruling party,  intimidation of opposition  candidates and the arrests of their  supporters before and after the polls  which deprive them of open support  during election campaign.

We called for a meeting of all stake holders to discuss the shortcomings of the system but the IEC failed to respond until the dying hours before nomination and then refused to postpone the elections. We also decided to adopt the tactics of non participation to show that we were serious about the need for electoral reform without which chances of building a formidable opposition is inconceivable.

Your participation and its outcome has proven that the Group of Six is right. You concluded in your press conference that the APRC is weak but despite its weakness your party could not win a single seat. What does that say about your party or the electoral system? An electoral system where a weak ruling party sweeps the polls cannot be a credible or viable electoral system. How do you explain your results?

We had anticipated that you will utilise your Press conference to confirm the legitimacy of the grievances of the Group of Six and draw lessons that would steer the country towards electoral reform.

Instead you tried to legitimise your participation, vilify the opposition as parties in a state of political slumber and appease the IEC by commending them for a job well done.  Interestingly enough, the same mouth which uttered the congratulatory message to the IEC also indicated that the IEC has made it crystal clear that it cannot stop governors and Chiefs from campaigning for the ruling party. In short, you became an apologist of the IEC instead of assessing its weakness and demanding renewed commitment to fulfill their constitutional and statutory mandate rather than show signs of helplessness. You claim to be part of the opposition that is making effort to effect electoral reform and that you are participating in meetings but had not said a single word in your press conference regarding the overstay of the IEC Chairman who has served his two seven year terms and could only be an adviser and not a member of the Commission.

Mr. Bah, in arguing that your party participated in the elections to remain engaged negates the rationale for becoming an Independent candidate during the Presidential elections. We all agreed that a genuine multi party system ,that allows parties to contest on equal footing, does not exist. We formed a united front to put all hands on deck to ensure the people do not vote on the basis of a party but on the basis of a platform to effect democratic change and sort out the party differences later. Hence if you were truly interested in engaging the ruling party you should have been consistent with the tactics adopted during the Presidential elections and call on the Group of Six to support Independent candidates through out the Country so that they end up being the majority in Parliament and the councils and utilise the development as a justification of the need for political reform.

At the Press Conference some members of your leadership are quoted to be blaming the other opposition Parties for asking their members not to vote for the NRP and that they were jubilating when they heard the results of the NRP. This is clearly an attempt to distort reality by looking for a scapegoat.

Mr. Bah, it is strange that your leadership is arguing that non participation creates a political vacuum and leaves the ruling party without challenge. Facts and figures do not back the notion of the NRP leadership. Your own candidature as an Independent candidate during the presidential elections provides incontrovertible evidence against the perception of your leadership.

Mr. Bah, NRP did not put up a candidate in the Presidential election of 2011. Other parties did not put up candidates. If you stood as an NRP candidate many people who do not agree with your party principles would not have voted for you.   However there was no political vacuum.  A United Front of opposition parties put up an Independent Candidate. In the same vein the non participation of the Group of Six parties did not create a political vacuum. During the National Assembly and Council elections, Independent Candidates stood to Challenge the ruling party. The results of both the National Assembly and Council elections reveal that the APRC was more vigorously engaged by the Independent Candidates than the NRP candidates.

Hence, NRP appears to be diminishing its statue by losing elections while Independent candidates are winning. This shows that your tactic is neither eroding the powers of the APRC nor enhancing the political statue of your party as a force to be reckoned with.  Tactics that do not weaken your opponent or enhance your strength or integrity are failed tactics. 

On the other hand, we are able to expose the APRC from two angles and weaken its grounds to claim that it has the overwhelming majority of Gambians behind it as a justification to resist electoral reform.  In short, the tactic of non participation without discouraging people from voting for Independent candidates has led to real exposure of the weaknesses of the APRC from two angles.

On one hand, the registered voters cast a vote of no confidence in the electoral system by not participating. On the other hand,   many of those who participated decided to vote for Independent candidates as a sign of protest for a change in the electoral system. The facts and figures are very clear.   There are 796,929 registered voters in the Gambia. During the 2012 National Assembly elections only candidates in 23 constituencies out of 48 contested in the elections. There are 308,000 registered voters in the 23 Constituencies. According to the IEC final tabulation only 152 839 registered voters participated. Over 644090 out of 796,929 registered voters did not participate in the National Assembly elections did not go to the polls. An electoral system which does not motivate candidates and the electors to participate is certainly not viable. This is the first point.

The second point is that out of the 152,839 registered voters who participated in the elections the APRC with the full backing of the President, the Ministers, Governors, Chiefs, Village heads, Security personnel, councillors and the utilisation of public resources, especially threats in the state media could only have 80,289 votes while the Independent Candidates are now reported by the IEC to have 57,944 votes. NRP had 14606 votes. The narrow gap shows that the ruling party does not have the popular support it claims to have.

In the local Government elections, the mayoral elections in Banjul and KMC are worth mentioning. In Banjul there are 21,178 registered voters. Only 9733 participated. The Independent Candidate had 4980 votes. The APRC had 3811 votes out of 21, 178 potential votes.  The combined opponents of the APRC had 5922 votes. Hence, the opponents were 2111 votes ahead of the APRC.

In KMC, there are 187,757 registered voters. The APRC candidate had 25,773 Votes and the Independent Candidate has 10,982 votes. Hence only 36,755 registered voters participated in the elections. Over 151,002 voters did not participate.

Hence the non participation of the vast majority of registered voters and the decision to vote for Independent candidates as protest votes show very clearly that APRC does not have the support of the vast majority of people in this country and could no longer win major elections through inducement or intimidation.

As far as PDOIS is concerned, the position of the Group of Six, has led to the exposure of the shortcomings and weaknesses of the APRC without creating any political vacuum.

In short, the lessons that emerged from the two elections is that the APRC has the option of acceding to political reform and face genuine multi party Presidential contests with all parties putting up Presidential candidates in the first round and then form alliances in the second round or face a movement of an Independent Candidate that could bring all forces together to facilitate democratic change. 

The protest vote movement which is given vibrancy by the non participation of major opposition parties provides political collateral for electoral reform. In short, if they fail to change the laws to remove the constitutional ban to be a Presidential candidate  based on age, restore the second round of voting if no candidate gets 50 percent majority, take initiative to  prevent governors, traditional rulers and heads of tribunals like chiefs, village heads like alkalolu from interfering with the electoral process as well as  ensuring that other  public officers and state resources are not relied on for the  electoral campaign of the ruling party, PDOIS would join the other opposition parties,  if they agree to the tactics,  to support one viable and selectable  independent candidate to remove the APRC and install an interim government. Hence there is no way of escaping the potential for democratic change in 2016.

It is therefore best for your party Mr. Bah, to assess its tactics in light of the fact that there will not be any political vacuum for it to exploit to go into the fighting ring with the APRC with kid’s gloves.

As regards the engagement of the regime, no right thinking honest Gambian has any doubt that PDOIS is effectively engaging the government at all levels and is holding it accountable to the people.  An effective opposition party is one that scrutinises, criticises and restrains impunity and speaks truth to public power.

Your party should be the last to include PDOIS among parties that are languishing in political slumber. After the National Assembly elections we left no stone unturned to do away with the post electoral victimization of your candidates. Journalists should go to Sabach Ngian where your Candidate for Sabach Sanjal constituency lives and find out how they see PDOIS and tell the public their findings. How many arrests and detentions have we tackled in your own constituency and how many land dispute cases? Challenge us in writing for a catalogue of the cases. Who would say that we are not in touch with the farmers of the country and bringing their concerns to public power and getting response for onward transmission to them? Go to the workers and tell them that we are in political slumber. They will tell you how many of their cases we handle a week. Go to people in high places and tell them that PDOIS is in political slumber. They will tell you the number of letters they receive to take them to task.

Go to the universities and schools to find out what impact we have in giving ideas on how to solve problems such as the recent riots at Saint Augustine’s Senior Secondary and the influence we have in shaping the careers of students or helping them to conduct their research programmes.

Mr Bah, PDOIS was born to speak truth to public power. We did so in the first Republic and Justice Hassan Jallow and Chief Justice Sock could attest to receiving the same types of letters in the first Republic as the Ministry of Justice of the second Republic is receiving.

When the Government of the first Republic surrendered to the coup makers we refused to surrender our sovereignty and spoke truth to public power.  This is why we were active through the coup period despite the fact that parties were banned and a given Attorney General giving repeated warning that we were out of line to be writing and saying what we were doing before political parties were un-banned but was never able to deter us from our sovereign course to help restore the sovereignty of the people and their right to determine their manner of representation. Just like you today are accusing all of us to be in a state of political slumber in the face of overwhelming facts to prove the contrary, those who were supposed to be active during the coup period but abdicated their responsibilities would like people to believe that we had the backing of the state to do what we were doing.  Magnanimity is what made us to let bygones be bygones and thus earn the respect of all those who thought they were in order to obstruct our cause as we struggled to defy restrictions to restore the sovereignty of the Republic and the people, even though we never held any Ministerial or official post before the coup.

Facts make it evident that PDOIS is associated with every major tragedy under the Second Republic. Journalists should read the report of the Commission of enquiry on the April 10 incident. Not only will you find letters from the PDOIS leadership but also testimonies by PDOIS members who were following developments in the streets to try to prevent a massacre.

It is the PDOIS leadership that put an end to the tragedy of the witch hunters. The PDOIS leadership did not hesitate to come to the defence of sanity after the executions to the point of being attacked on national television and in the press by frustrated Ministers.

When information came that an armed insurrection was imminent it was the PDOIS leadership which conducted an efficient investigation in Senegal to help Gambians to have a clear picture of the mood of the Senegalese government which reflected gross dissatisfaction with the execution of its citizens but had not reach the level of contemplating to launch a Tanzania type of removal of Idi Amin. History has proven that it was right for us to dismiss false hopes and give confidence to the people that they have within them the sovereign will to take charge of their destiny if they truly want democratic change.

The PDOIS leadership is known for combating arrests and detentions without trial. The cases of Alhaji Ismaila Manjang, Imam Ba Kawsu Fofana, etc were followed until their release. The case of Imam Baba Leigh is being followed and will be followed until his release. During the misinformation campaign on the EU seventeen points, it is the PDOIS leadership that did the clarification.

When those who aspired to be nominated councillors and those nominated or their supporters were subjected to arrests and harassment we came to their defence.

Suffice to say that we did not hesitate to clarify issues associated with   the recent  amendments of  the criminal code and the lapse after  local government elections. PDOIS is ever present and current. It is awake and will never go to sleep. Those who aim to allow conscience and justice be their guide must ever stand vigil to protect the rights of even those who view them as enemies knowing fully well that if one cannot do justice to an enemy one would never be able to guarantee it to a friend. The only just person is one who harbours no ill will against  anyone and is always concerned and determined to redress harm done  to everyone .

To conclude we must say that you have every right not to give us credit for the work we are doing but you have no right to distort the facts. Truth is like the sun. No one could cover the sun with the palm of one’s hand. One could only cover or close one’s eye and imagine that it does not exist.

We therefore hope that in an attempt to justify your own political missteps you will not try to erode the hard earned integrity of the opposition that is bent on moving forward to promote electoral reform and to do everything humanly possible to make a difference in 2016. Should you disagree with any point that is asserted, we would like you to concede to a debate or joint press conference to clarify our different positions and answer questions.

Yours in the service of the people

Halifa Sallah
Secretary General, PDOIS