Gambia: Three or Five Year Presidential Term – A Debate

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Follow – As if an episode from GRTS Television series, Banjul has become an interesting city of late with so much drama on the streets of the Capital. There appears to be debates ranging from street corners, civil society groups, the diaspora, students and Media Houses competing to be heard and for catchy headlines. But there also seems to be an underbelly of noise gathering pace across social-media platforms which I’m still struggling to understand. And that noise relates to whether President Barrow should stick with the coalition agreement of three (3) years and relinquish power for fresh elections, or to serve the full five (5) year term as mandated by the constitution. Earlier this morning, I confided in a friend if such noise & arguments got anything to do with advancing Gambian politics at this critical juncture, or could it just be that a population silenced for almost a quarter-century has finally found its voice – and clinging to it. Whatever the reasoning or political calculus the debate is quite deafening, but one certainly welcome.

The headline above may appear misleading which shall soon be clarified in view of the constitution. The law of the land provides that Presidential term shall last for five (5) years, which I think we all agree on. However, the issue here, or at least the debate raging online is regarding the Coalition Agreement signed between the various political parties in that historic Hotel Kairaba Convention to challenge the dictatorship. Although I have not seen the paper, the consensus is that the agreement was designed for the eventual victor to govern for three years, and to dissolve cabinet for new elections to be called where all competing participants shall be accorded equal status & to enjoy fair-play rules as normalised in major democracies around the world. That was that, circumstances at the time dictated the situation – and it was a wise document as such. It should be noted that – the people jumping around calling for President Barrow to give up power after three years as agreed in that unprecedented convention should not be chastised, or condemned. They have every right to voice-up and be heard, but that does not mean they are right, nor do I agree with their viewpoint, and here are my reasons:

In my view, Gambians just need to calm down drink some Gam-Water or Gam-Juice & breathe. In all seriousness, the country is confronted by a world of anything-goes-politics with fake news on the rise, which requires pragmatism, and to base our political discourse and arguments on FACTs on what the law says. Whatever the intentions or political posturing at play here, this debate should be heard bearing in mind where we were and how far we have come as a country. More importantly however this debate should only be heard reflecting on the wishes and constitutionality of it all.

What happened on that fateful night at Hotel Kairaba – as historic as it was – is a Gentleman’s agreement with no basis in legal codes or statutes. The Gambian people need to quickly come to terms with the fact that the law supersedes seniority, or friendships, or signed agreements between groups. And Inasmuch as I admire and want to defend that historic accord – The law of the land rules supreme. That is that – not even a contest. With regards to this topic moving forward, the public need to decide if you want to obey the law or to follow whatever your heart desires or what people tell you. If the former is true, and it is so – then President Barrow is mandated to serve a full five (5) year term in office and for elections to be called thereafter. I trust that the President’s Cabinet colleagues understand this caveat, and that Members of Parliament have come to terms with the ruling too. Moving forward however and for posterity purposes, this should not open the door to Pandora’s box for breaking agreements, for callous behaviour, or fraud & betrayals. The situation here is exceptional given the fact that the country was facing extraordinary challenges under Jammeh. What transpired at that Hotel-Kairaba convention was a one-off, unprecedented in Gambia’s political history – and to be fondly remembered as such.

Today, the coalition members are in government with a portfolio to serve. PDOIS is elected to parliament and the country is regaining its footing on a path to credible democratic reform. With barely six months in charge, the public, and critics, and vested interest just need to untighten the screw a little, allow the administration to rain in changes for the country to thrive, and for Banjul to shine surpass its former glory. President Barrow will go when his term is up, don’t just take his word for it – we have the constitution to back us up on that. With a new constitution under draft, the administration ought to speed up legal reforms and for a maximum two-term limit to be reflected sacrosanct. I hope this debate can now be closed and to move onto newer & better things that help move the country forward.

On his maiden speech addressing Parliament, it was interesting to see President Barrow embrace Hon. Sallah, Hon Jatta, and other members of Parliament from various political parties. And credit to Mama Kandeh who acquainted himself well too. Although I have been very critical of him of late, if he changes tact and show true leadership qualities putting the country first, GDC could provide an effective opposition a true democracy requires. I want him to know the Gambian people aren’t asking for a perfect leader, or one who gives out most handouts – all we ask is for everyday honesty in dealings with the public, and to tell the truth even when the headlines aren’t favourable. That is the true measure of LEADERSHIP – honesty even in the face of adversity. Gambians are a simple bunch, an understanding and forgiving lot, and as long as politicians understand those simple rules putting the interest of the country above money and all else – the sky is the limit. An effective GDC opposition could prove pivotal for efficiency within the executive branch by holding government accountable for decisions therein. Kandeh needs to professionalise his Party and to surround himself with knowledgeable people in modern political operation, Economic experts, Global affairs expert in terms of Foreign Policy, Education spokesperson, Health Spokesperson, renewable energy and environmental issues – . For such expertise advice look no further but graduates from the country’s universities. Fellow Gambians – a political environment with an effective opposition Party, an independent Parliament, a vibrant but balanced media, civil society groups all scrutinising holding the administration & various institutions of the executive accountable – that is the smarter way to grow and consolidate democratic gains. And that is how you ensure proper utilisation of public finances & resources. And certainly, the most effective way to advance and entrench democracy.

 

Gibril Saine, LONDON