#Opinion

The Gambian New Constitution- the executive power to dissolve the National Assembly or Parliament

Jul 7, 2020, 2:09 PM

The current debate on the new Gambian Draft Constitution, should not be left alone, between the executive/government, and the National Assembly (NA), or even with civil society organizations.
The electorate, represented by ordinary people (or the collective Civil Society) - must be seen to have their voices heard, and reflected, in a revised Draft Constitution, before referendum. It goes without saying that, the process of review and adoption - should end in an all-inclusive national consultative conference, should be organized by the CRC/IEC, but facilitated by government, so as to engender national consensus, and agree, on key amendments and recommendations of the Draft Constitution.

I would even proposed that such a Conference be held VIRTUALLY, so that Gambians, anywhere, can participate either, as a panellist, or listener. 

Going forward, given the current debate as to whether the executive should be given the constitutional power, to dissolve the National Assembly/Parliament, in the Third Republican Constitution; I say, it is something, worthy of consideration, if we just apply our minds to it, without prejudice, if the public interest, is what concerns us, as a people with common destiny. Such a republican concept of dissolution of the peoples representatives assembly,i.e. Parliament (or National Assembly, in the case of Gambia) -is in the heart of democratic governance - an acceptable common practice in both parliamentary, and presidential forms of governance; albeit though, it is a tool, more prevalently applied in a parliamentary form of governance (than presidential), where a sitting prime minister, as head of Government, may need to use such a tool, to effect a desired political, or party,programmatic outcome – by dissolving Parliament to seek a new political mandate from the electorate – the people; such a political strategy is manifested in “snap elections”, where Parliament is legally dissolved by the executive, and parliamentary elections held within a specified time period, after dissolution, e.g., 3 months.In practice, we have seen the power of dissolution of Parliament occasionally used in the UK (and elsewhere), to seek a new mandate from the electorate, on a major public/ national policy position, e.g.,Brexit.
Although, the presidential form of government, rarely uses the power to dissolve parliament, or national assembly; nevertheless, it is an applicablepolitical tool, which should not be denied, any executive, in a modern democracy.If we aspire as a nation, to be a champion of democracy, worthy of emulation by others, we must think out of the box, to be as original as possible, to include such fundamental tenets of good political governance, that would robustly nurture and strengthened, our yet again, new found democracy as citizens. If we as a people are seriously desirous of doing away with past political malfeasance, and bottlenecks in our constitutional body politics, and build a thriving and lasting democracy - we have to evolve and be innovative, in our politics.

An executive, or government, comes into office with a developmental agenda, programme, or social contract – which they have campaigned for, and won the mandate of the people, to govern.If we depart from the premise that our future third republican vice president (VP), is the leader of “government business” in the national assembly, we can say, he/she, is de-facto, the "prime minister", of the executive, for argument sake.The ability for an executive to pass“public-interest legislations” in Parliament, should not depend on whether the executive has the majority, or otherwise. Rather, it should depend on inter-party negotiations, “give and take”, and lobbying at caucus levels – to effect consensus, on public policy issues, of common cause, to the parties in conclave, to achieve a common political position; that is the mind-set, I believe, progressive Gambians, would want to see the next republican Assembly, manifest, if we as a people want to move forward, to develop our country quickly.

This brings me to the need for national assembly members to be independent, in their voting on critical issues, and be able to depart from the position of their parties, where the party position, is not in the best interest of his/her constituency, or the national interest, at large. If the next republican Assembly is to be productive, the new Constitution must protect progressive NAMs, and not be left, to the parties, to unjustly reprimand them, for voting across the aisle, in support of the exercise of their judgement, of what they perceive asthe public interest.

However, although, I am in support of such an executive authority, I would hastily agree that,such an executive power to dissolve the Assembly,should be limited in terms of object, time, and space! “Limited” in object”, where the national assembly is dysfunctional, in logjam, or not achieving any legislative progress; but entangled in endless partisan politics, without any recourse. Furthermore, the “power to dissolve…”can be unintentionally be of benefit to the electorate, where the people, or a particular constituency, may need to do away in earnest (without effecting a recall), with inept/non performingrepresentatives. And hence, need not want to wait, till their normal term of office, endsin five years’ time; thus, the ability of the executive to call for snap elections, will serve this public interest purpose.

Thirdly, the power should be limited in terms of time, and space, wherethe IEC/IBEC, will have elections organized within a specified time period (e.g., 3 months), immediately after dissolution of parliament/ NA.

Of course, it goes without saying that such innovative and disruptive political tools, are not without costs implications. If fact, we must as a people, be ready bear such costs, including the capacitation of the national assembly, with a limited back-office, to support NAMs, in the execution of their legislative work programme.

The new Constitution must aim to strike a countervailing balance between the executive and the national assembly. We should not propagate asymmetric accountability - lopsided in favour of the Assembly; rather the power to dissolve the NA by the executive, should be seen as “fair play”, and a checks-and-balanced proposition, for “mutual accountability”; albeit, both are accountable to the electorate, as final arbiter.

The NA currently has one, major existential power over the executive. And this is the power of “vote of no confidence, and impeachment.” This power in my view makes any president to take his or her office seriously, as it is always being dangled over the executive’s head, as a “stick”, without the carrot, to justly bring in line constitutionally, the excesses of the executive - fair enough; the recent impeachment of the US president by the US House (of Congress), is a case in point.And rightly so.

In our new dispensation, going forward,as a countervailing proviso, the power to dissolve the NA, should be given to the executive (irrespective of, who is the president, current or future) – in order, to hold the Assembly, true, to the executive’spolitical agenda, upon which, the electorate voted him/her into office.

If the power to dissolve the NA is seen equally, as an existential threat to their fixed term elected mandates - would make non-performing NAMs, to "sit-up", and be non-partisan to the extent possible- tosupport the “mandated peoples agenda”, be it, the National Development Plan (NDP), or any special developmental programme, put before the national assembly, in a future third republican administration.
If such a countervailing order is not incorporated in the new Constitution, we are building asymmetric democratic governance architecture, which, in my view, and that of many of my compatriots - is not in the public’s interest. Once the head of executive is legally impeached, he or she's political career is over; there is no opportunity for recourse; it is constitutionally in order. But what about when the national assembly is dissolved by the head of the executive; progressive NAMs still have the opportunity for recourse, and re-validation of their parliamentary record, through the eyes of the beholding electorate -by being voted back into office!
Adama Deen
Kotu East