Feb 24, 2010, 11:10 AM
In the build-up to the coming presidential, parliamentary and local government elections, which are due next year through 2013, the political scene in the country is wide awake yet again with members of the opposition, notably NADD and the UDP bigwigs holding a meeting for a possible alliance.
While Sidia Jatta of the opposition Peoples Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) subscribes to the idea of holding a primary for the people to select the candidate of their choice in line with Agenda 2011, Lawyer Ousainou Darboe, party leader and Secretary General of the opposition United Democratic Party is of the view that a primary, which is very central in the Agenda 2011, is conducted among aspiring candidates that belong to the same party.
According to Darboe, the holding of a primary for aspiring candidates from different political parties is bound to create disunity among the parties, and the whole purpose of creating a formidable united front will be defeated. Since the elections are fast approaching, Darboe noted, there may not be enough time to repair any damage that is caused in the process by aspiring candidates trying to win support.
In his view, the well known norm for the creation of an opposition alliance is for the majority party to lead, and the others throw their weight behind that party.
What follows are the views of the two on a number of issues:
Having been waiting for Mr Ousainou Darboe to come back to me, as promised after meeting his Executive Committee, I was invited to a meeting by the PDOIS Executive Committee to brief them on whether the UDP leader had spoken to me about any alliance that they wanted PDOIS to join, which aims to discuss the future of the country and the modalities of creating a united front without any conditionality.
It has been brought to my notice that the GMC leader, Mr. Mai Fatty, has called on PDOIS to join an alliance, but has not sent any document to indicate that an alliance exists which PDOIS should join. After my discussion with the PDOIS Central Committee, I have seen the need to make my discussion with the UDP leader public so that all speculations would come to an end.
Gambians should bear in mind what has happened in Guinea Conakry, and what is happening in
Finally, it is the ordinary people who pay for the follies of their leaders. I do not want any body to link me to any dragging of feet regarding the creation of a united front by the opposition.
My discussion with the UDP leader was direct, frank, short and without any ambiguity.
We discussed four main items, that is, his concept of what constitutes the international standard of forming opposition alliances; the NADD experience, Agenda 2011 and the need for opposition collaboration to monitor the registration of voters.
Mr. Darboe told me that the international standard of establishing opposition alliances is for the party with the majority to lead, and the others to follow.
I observed that it is unfortunate that in the Gambian context there is no second round of voting, which would have made it possible for the people to select the two candidates who could participate in the final round. I added that if he wants, he as UDP leader to be supported as a candidate, on the basis of the principle he mentioned, he should go ahead and start a campaign to sell his candidature to the Gambian voters.
I emphasised that on my part, I am not sure which political leader in the opposition could take voters away from the ruling party, and motivate those who abstained in 2006 to cast their vote.
Hence I subscribe to the idea of holding a primary for the people to select the candidate of their choice in line with Agenda 2011. I told him that this is why I endorse Agenda 2011.
We then discussed the NADD experience. I made it very clear that even though other options were put on the table, all parties agreed to create NADD. I showed its successes and possibilities as a viable opposition alliance. He maintained that NADD was destroyed by others.
He expressed his view that Agenda 2011 is very good on paper, but that he fears that it is not workable. He said that if different opposition leaders go on a political platform to campaign to be the candidate of the opposition, they may engage in character assassination just to win votes. I told him that his fear should be laid to rest since Agenda 2011 is calling for each party or Independent personality to promote the Agenda on one’s own platform and seek a mandate of the people across the board.
I emphasised that the mere fact that all voters who support the Agenda would be called upon to vote for the single candidate makes it essential for no candidate to be subjected to character assassination, since he or she may very well become the people’s choice of candidate. At that point he said that he was reassured.
Finally, he questioned whether it was not possible for the opposition to collaborate to monitor the registration of voters. I told him that this was a necessity, and every effort should be made to do so.
He assured me that he would hold an extraordinary meeting with his committee, and come back to me. Since then I have been waiting to know what their stand is on Agenda 2011 or selling his candidature to the Gambian voters.
These are the ways forward that are before the UDP leader, and they need to take a stand and move on instead of giving the impression that Sidia is dragging his feet on the issue of a united front.
I have made it abundantly clear to the PDOIS Central Committee that there is no political vacuum for the creation of a United Front in the
Agenda 2011 calls for each party to go on its own platform and campaign for its own candidate to be the single candidate of the opposition through a primary.
NADD is still legally registered and all political parties could embrace it and then come together to select a single candidate. As far as I know, the PDOIS still subscribes to the NADD idea, and the PPP under OJ has also not pulled out of NADD.
Those who want to support the opposition should take their sides and promote dialogue while not undermining each other’s positions. This is the way forward. I am willing to meet any representative from the GMC or any other party that aims to discuss
On Sunday 7th November 2010 Mr. Kemesseng Jammeh accompanied me to meet with Mr. Sidia Jatta to discuss with him the United Democratic Party’s (UDP) proposal for a united opposition front to contest the next three cycles of elections. When I met Mr. Jatta I was under the impression that I was meeting him not in his capacity as National Assembly member for Wuli West, but as the person designated by PDOIS to deal with on inter- party matters.
I had previously been informed by Mr. Jatta that he was the person to deal with on matters touching on party relationships. This was after my failed attempts to reach Mr. Sallah, the spokesperson for NADD and Secretary General of the PDOIS.
I was very direct in presenting the position of the UDP on the selection of a candidate for the 2011 presidential race. I reminded Mr. Jatta that a primary, which is very central in the Agenda 2011, is conducted among aspiring candidates that belong to the same party. Holding of a primary for aspiring candidates from different political parties is bound to create disunity among the parties, and that the whole purpose of creating a formidable united front will be defeated.
Since the elections are fast approaching, there may not be enough time to repair any damage that is caused in the process by an aspiring candidate trying to win support. Such a situation, I said, could be exploited by opponents.
I then made the point that the well known norm for the creation of an opposition alliance is for the majority party to lead, and others throw their weight behind that party.
In my bid to disabuse Mr. Jatta’s mind about my personal ambition to contest the 2011 presidential elections, I expressed disappointment that whenever the UDP makes a proposal for a party-led alliance the focus shifts to OUSAINOU DARBOE in wanting to be the candidate for the alliance.
I told him that I am realistic to recognize the fact that a lot of things can happen that would prevent anyone from contesting the next presidential election. I said to him that I could step out of his house and then drop dead; that I could be struck by ailment that could render me physically or mentally unfit to contest any election. So the focus should not be on me, but on the concept of a party-led alliance.
I want to make it clear to every Gambian that the views I express on the issue of an opposition united front are views of the UDP. I do not advocate for such an alliance because I want to position myself to lead.
In the course of the discussions, I questioned Mr. Jatta on the rationale for imposing a condition on a successful all opposition alliance presidential candidate not to contest elections or support any candidate for election at the end of what is described, in Agenda 2011, as a transitional period.
The UDP has always advocated and will continue to advocate for a two-year term limit. I told Mr. Jatta that the imposition of such a condition to my mind calls into question the integrity of the person who is selected by the alliance as a candidate.
I made it clear to him that for the UDP such a condition suggests that the person so selected will not abide by the accepted rules, and that he would only perpetuate himself in office.
I made it clear to him the UDP will not consider such a person fit to be selected as an all-opposition alliance candidate because there is some latent doubt that, when elected to the office of president, he will not honour his commitment to ensuring that all parties operate in a level playing field.
Mr. Jatta in reply said that the stipulation of such a condition was not putting into question the integrity of any person who might be selected as an all-opposition alliance candidate, but that such a person would have an advantage over others. I took my enquiries further, and asked Mr. Jatta what this advantage(s) might be, but he could not say.
The discussion on NADD was a reminder to both of us that the decision to register it should not have been taken. At this point, Mr. Kemesseng Jammeh then intervened to say that the UDP advised against registration of NADD, but the advice was not heeded. Mr. Jatta said a merger of political parties could have been registered, but I pointed out to him that there was no clause at that time in the constitution of any of the parties that allows for a merger.
Mr. Jatta said if he was around at the time, he would have suggested that all parties convene an extraordinary congress to amend their constitutions, and insert a clause for mergers so that NADD could be registered without any problem. This was the only occasion, and it was only in this context that the word “Extraordinary” was used.
Mr. Jammeh intervened again and asked how candidates for National Assembly elections will be elected under the Agenda 2011 proposal. Mr. Jatta replied that this could be done on the basis of party strength in the constituencies. With that response from Mr. Jatta, I said to him if one can apply the principle of party strength to selection of National Assembly candidates, why not for the selection of a presidential candidate.
Mr. Jatta did not give any direct answer to my enquiries. He said that for the interest of this country, he is flexible. I then said this statement is re-assuring and comforting. I repeated these three times, and on the third occasion Mr. Jatta said, when he said he was flexible, he was just stating his personal position, and not his party’s. I again said even with that I felt assured and comforted.
I met Mr. Jatta and presented him proposals for PDOIS/NAAD consideration. Therefore, Mr. Jatta could not be waiting for me.
Rather, I was waiting to hear from him. I did not commit myself to the holding of any meeting of the executive of the UDP whether regular or extraordinary to discuss the adoption of Agenda 2011 by the UDP. It is simply incorrect that any individual’s candidature was an issue. The discussions were focused on the concepts of Agenda 2011 and a party-led alliance
When I subsequently reported to the National Executive Committee of the UDP on the discussion I had with Mr. Jatta, I impressed on all members of the committee that since we were engaged in consultation with Mr. Jatta, it will not be in keeping with tradition for anyone of them to disclose to any member of our party or for that matter to any other person the content of my discussions with Mr. Jatta.
But then I did not realize that, whilst I was urging members of the UDP not to divulge to the public the contents of my discussions with Mr. Jatta, he was, in fact, taking steps to represent to Gambians and others that my consultations with him centered on Agenda 2011 and the promotion of my candidature. This representation is simply not correct.
Before we went into the discussion/consultation proper, I told Mr. Jatta that I had personally refrained from talking to the press, on what I believe to have been the reasons for NADD’s disintegration or impediments for the creation of an all-opposition alliance, because I do not want anyone to take comfort in what some describe as “opposition squabbles”.
The UDP has, in the past, ignored comments and statements to which it can legitimately react unless there is compelling reason to do so. Mr. Jatta’s statement in the Foroyaa issue of 6-7 December 2010 is one such compelling reason.
The UDP has not accused anyone of foot dragging, and any suggestion that the UDP is engaged in foot dragging is simply misrepresenting UDP’s position.
The efforts made by the UDP between 19th October 2010, when Mr. Jatta was in Wuli and 6th November for me to meet with him, speak volume of its commitment to the idea of a united opposition to rescue The Gambia.
UDP will continue with its consultation with all opposition parties so that a robust and formidable united opposition will emerge to unseat the incumbent.
The UDP hopes that the PDOIS/NADD will be part of this united opposition.
The opposition elements in The Gambia must approach the problems of this country with seriousness. We must avoid publicity just for its sake. Tempus fugit. We should not allow time to run out on Gambians.