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Presidential campaign trail heats up

Nov 14, 2011, 1:27 PM | Article By: Abdou Rahman Sallah & Sainey MK Marenah on tour

Campaigning for the forthcoming presidential election slated for 24th November officially got to a start Saturday with politicians holding meetings after meetings in different parts of the country.

The election, the fourth since the advent of the Second Republic, will see incumbent President Yahya Jammeh seeking a fourth term against Lawyer Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party (UDP) and Hamat Bah, an independent candidate under the newly-formed United Front comprising four opposition parties.

Jammeh, 46, has said that this year’s election will be a contest between progress and retrogression, not between him and the opposition, stressing that those who want progress will vote for him.

Ousainou Darboe, 63, will be running for the fourth time as a presidential candidate.

He has long said his priority is to improve the well-being of the farmers by buying their groundnuts promptly, as well as promoting good governance and press freedom.

Hamat Bah, 51, will be seeking the presidency for the third time.

He has also said that part of his priorities if elected will be to address the problem of housing for civil servants, youth employment, utilization of the River Gambia, restoring freedom of the press, open up the wavelength to enable Gambians discuss and debate on issues freely, restore the tourism sector to what it was before, and ensuring food self-sufficiency, among others.

United Front rally

Addressing hundreds of party supporters at a rally held at the Ebony Junction in Serrekunda on Saturday, Hamat Bah, deplored what he said was the current state of Serrekunda, noting that it’s a pity that a place like Serrekunda has no proper garage, no market, no graveyard, which he said are of great importance.

He told his supporters that if he is elected under the banner of the United Front, he will establish a ministry of Urban Planning responsible for proper town planning.

Bah stated that as future leaders, the young people of this country lack the professional skills they need for their survival, as the government has failed in this aspect.

For him, the educational system of the country should reflect the true developmental needs of the people in all areas.

“As I am speaking right now, trucks are loaded with bags of rice being distributed to various compounds in Serrekunda,” he said, calling on Gambians to be wise as “a mere bag of rice should not let them lose their integrity and sovereignty.”

“You should not accept to be given a bag of rice for five days, and be enslaved for the next five years,” he told cheering supporters.

The independent candidate also explained that the United Front has studied the situation and has solutions to all these problems.

“Once we are voted in, we will put an end to all these problems, especially in providing a micro-finance facility for the women and in supporting them to improve their standard of living,” he said, adding that the United Front will do everything possible to ensure that farming takes place effectively. 

While expressing confidence of victory in the polls, Bah said a United Front government will, in its first five years in office, create a housing scheme and build 20, 000 houses for Gambians.

He further told his cheering supporters that a United Front government will make sure that the country’s judiciary operates independently and freely and is not dictated by anybody.

On the Independent Electoral Commission, Bah said the composition of the Commission will be changed and a proportional system be introduced.

He said when elected into office, all local languages will be used in the National Assembly to enable all Gambians know what is being said by their various representatives.

He also assured his audience that, if given the mandate, he will expand the media and pave the way for radio stations, television stations and newspapers to operate freely in the country.

Bah then called on all Gambians, especially the youthful population to come out in their large numbers and vote massively for him, so as to effect what he called ‘a change for a better Gambia’.

In his speech, Hon. Sidia Jatta said the ruing APRC government has failed in bringing about sustainable development to improve the living standard of the average Gambian.

According to him, 71% of Gambians are living in absolute poverty, many of whom “are faced with a lot of difficulties and hardship, as there exists no freedom of speech and no one can fully exercise his or her rights as a citizen.”

He told party supporters that the APRC government did assign some immigration personnel to go to Spain and other countries to fish out Gambian migrants and have them deported back to this country; thus the increased unemployment among youths.

Also addressing the rally was Halifa Sallah, who said Gambians gained independence 46 years ago, and that their campaign slogan is to enable Gambians to know themselves, know their country and then know what they are in their country.

According to Sallah, the country’s poverty status is “worsening on a daily basis, as everything is one sided”, and that it is the peoples votes that can determine their powers and integrity to decide who should be entrusted the affairs of the state.

“The APRC government has taken loans in the name of Gambians to develop certain areas to reduce poverty and hunger, but still Gambians are getting poorer every day. Also the unemployment rate in this country is unbearable and annually over 300, 000 school leavers are joining the larger society to compete for employment,” he said.

Sallah told the cheering crowd that if voted into office, a United Front government will create avenues for youth employment and other areas to improve the socio-economic development of the country, and thus reduce poverty and food insecurity.

He opined that the APRC government should have empowered the Gambia Public Transport Corporation (GPTC) to create employment opportunities for youths, buy more buses and provide water transport facilities and fishing trawlers, which would boost the economy of the country, while at the same time creating job opportunities for Gambian youths.

To him, the government should support the cooperative societies to buy groundnuts from farmers, and provide fertilizers for them to maximize productivity to secure food self- sufficiency.

Ajaratou Amie Sabally, a women’s mobiliser, said the opposition United Front has come to wipe the tears of Gambians, stressing that Gambians have long been in tears, and now the time has come for them to vote for a change, and save the country from “sinking”.

She lamented the skyrocketing of prices for basic commodities in the country, noting that people’s living condition is getting harder on a daily basis.

Sarja Jarjue, a youth leader, said the fact that elections are held every five years should make Gambians, especially the youth, to be wise enough to know where to cast their votes for their freedom and sustainable development.

Aji Soffie Susso, also a staunch supporter of the United Front, said the current state of the Gambia in terms of difficulties is enough to convince them to vote for a change.

“It is high time we put our words into action, and vote Jammeh out,” she added.

Henry Gomez of the GPDP also told the rally that the United Front was formed based on the recommendation from Gambians across the country at a convention, and after a series of consultation meetings.

According to Gomez, the United Front is non-ethnic and non-religious-based, and is geared towards bringing about sustainable development in the country.

In his view, there exists no democracy in the country, as people cannot talk freely or exercise their rights fully as citizens.

Other speakers at the rally included Aji Ndumbeh Njie, Sheikh Ceesay and Mawdo Ceesay.

UDP Rally

The main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) also on Friday held a political rally in Latrikunda German as part of their campaign ahead of the polls.

Addressing hundreds of party supporters, Ousainou Darboe, leader of the UDP, warned stakeholders in the political process, especially party leaders, to desist from tribal politics, noting that tribal politics has no room in the 21st century.

Organised by the Central Women’s Wing of the UDP, the rally brought together party supporters from across the country.

While calling on Gambians to vote massively for the UDP, Darboe stressed that “UDP will never condone or tolerate tribal politics, because as he put it, it has no place in the country’s political landscape.”

“The Gambian people have reached a crossroad – to choose between the continuation of the current state of misrule, which has existed for the past 17 years, or good governance by a UDP-led administration,” Darboe who expressed optimism about victory told a cheering crowd of his supporters.

According to him, Gambians have over the past 17 years been constantly intimidated by a wholesale display of military hardware, causing accidents in the streets and highways.

“We must stop and refrain ourselves from ethnic hatred because this will only lead us to violence. The Gambia is known for its peace and stability, and anyone who, regardless of his or her status, wants to play with that will jeopardize his or her life,” Darboe added.

Noting that the UDP, unlike the APRC administration, believes in the freedom of individual and the right to a chance to develop one’s potential, Darboe said his party would not allow anyone to trample on their rights.

Also blaming the country’s economic woes on what he said is bad leadership, Darboe said President Jammeh has frustrated the efforts of the business community, as he has taken centre stage in the country’s business sector.

“A UDP-led government shall provide a stable economic environment that would lay firm emphasis on productive investment in the public and private sector, education and training to develop skills of young people and adult, thus improving the living standard of Gambians,” he added.

“How can people vote for someone to manage the affairs of the state, only for him to turn himself into a businessman, selling meat, cement, farm produce, uniforms, sugar, and rice among others and he still considers himself a President?” he continued.

Darboe described the 24th November election as the Autumn Revolution of The Gambia, while stating that it will be ballot-box revolution, which is non-violent.

He told the rally that, if given the mandate to rule, the UDP will create loan service schemes for poor Gambian women to raise their status in society, as the ruling APRC government has failed to do so.

Outlining the priorities of a UDP government, Darboe said his government will be responsive to the needs and aspirations of Gambians, and that provision of housing and youth employment schemes, especially for young Gambian school leavers, will be a top priority.

He called on Gambians to put an end to the APRC government, which according to him has perpetuated the current economic stagnation facing the country, the skyrocketing of prices of goods and disrespect for all Gambian nationals across the world.

Darboe further stated that the UDP shall introduce constitutional changes that will give renewed vigor to the country’s democracy, and give back to the people their rights under the constitution.

He also promised the electorate that the UDP will address the problems of poverty and rising cost of living by increasing income of the poor, improving their access to basic services, empowerment, and controlling the prices of basic commodities without violating the market principles.

Lamin Dibba and Dembo Bojang, alias Dembo By Force, Campaign Manager and a senior figure of the party respectively, all spoke at the rally.

For Dibba, victory for the UDP in the presidential polls is a foregone conclusion, noting that “enough is enough as President Jammeh has personalized everything in the country.”

For Dembo By Force, the bell of change is ringing, and Gambians will vote massively for the UDP in the polls.

“Restoring the lost glory of The Gambia is the duty of all Gambians,” he declared.

Talking about the unsolved murder of journalist Deyda Hydara, death of Koro Ceesay, ex-finance minister, as well as the disappearance of UDP’s Kanyiba Kanyi, Dibba called on the APRC government to open frank and transparent investigations into all these cases, as they are duty bound to protect the lives and properties of all citizens.

Patient Njie, a UDP militant, Shyngle Nyassi, National Organizing Secretary, Mohammed Saho, a reported defector from the APRC green youths, Alagie Badou Drammeh, UDP Upper River Region Chairman, Amadou Camara, Aji Amie Yam Secka, Women’s Wing president, Yusupha Kijera of GMC youth brigade, all spoke at the rally, re-echoing similar sentiments.

Meanwhile, at the time of going to press yesterday, incumbent President Yahya Jammeh, who earlier on said he would not embark on any campaign, crossed over to the North Bank Region where he held a meeting in Essau as part of his campaign for the coming election.

More on that will come in our tomorrow’s edition.