By SULAIMAN LEIGH
The Gambian political atmosphere is polluted with toxic political victimisation by the incumbent President. At the core of all these susceptible political challenges over the decade has been the failure to hold free, fair and credible elections that can successfully pass the test of legitimacy. As a consequent, many concluded that there is no point going to the polls come December as President Jammeh has successfully constructed solid foundation for his unescapable victory. Regrettably, with the surfacing of new parties particularly the vastly popular GDC party and the unforeseen most desired political alliance of the opposition leaders all add up to pepper further political divide amongst Gambians. Predictably, the December presidential elections in Gambia just like its predecessors will be mired by violence, voter intimidation and all other forms of electoral malfeasance.
Election 2016 is less than months away but already, there is absolutely nothing in our national electoral playing field that is pointing to the possibility of holding a free and fair election. The constitutional body that is mandated with the responsibility of running all elections in this country, the IEC, is currently facing seemingly insurmountable challenges mainly relating to, but certainly not limited to, severe financial incapacitation, material resources constraints and an all-pervading culture of political interference; particularly from the ruling party.
The media environment, particularly the electronic media, remains a field that is rigidly controlled and manipulated by the regime. The electronic media is an extremely powerful and comparatively inexpensive mode of mass communication. Little doubt, therefore, that the APRC regime has maintained an iron-fisted control of the electronic media. In the prevailing harsh economic environment, very few people, even the urban elite, can afford to buy newspapers regularly. Hence, the majority of Gambians, particularly those who live in rural areas, mainly rely on radio when they want to access news and other forms of information. 22 years after television was lunch, the GRTS still controls and runs the nation’s sole television station as well as the radio station. The other ‘’privately’’ owned national radio stations are, in fact, de facto extensions of the APRC – controlled electronic media.
With less than four months to go before Election 2016, there is absolutely no indication that the APRC regime is in a mood to loosen its vice-like grip on the country’s electronic media. A number of so-called community radio stations have been granted licences to operate but mainly because of severe financial constraints, very few, if any, of these community radio stations have managed to go on air. This state of affairs makes the APRC regime perfectly comfortable because they know that there is virtually no competition as far as the electronic media is concerned. There is a very real likelihood that Election will be conducted without any meaningful change to the prevailing electronic media environment. Information is power and this is the main reason why all fascist and repressive regimes the world over always invariably maintain a tight-fisted control of the media; particularly the electronic media.
Opposition political parties in The Gambia hardly have any access to the APRC-controlled electronic media. In the few instances that opposition parties are covered by the electronic media, there will be a lot of massaging and twisting of information to such an extent that consumers of the electronic media product will be fed with crude misleading propaganda that always seeks to portray the APRC regime in a positive light. The other major challenge that is afflicting our electoral playing field is the abuse of traditional leaders by the APRC regime. In the rural areas, traditional leaders are commandeered to operate as APRC political commissars, particularly during election times. Stories abound of traditional leaders being ordered by the regime’s grassroots agents to ensure that all villagers under their control vote for APRC candidates. In the prevailing situation where villagers countrywide rely on government to access food aid, traditional leaders effectively play the role of victimising all those villagers who are known to be or are suspected to be opposition political party supporters.
The main thrust of this treatise is to postulate that December Election will be a complete farce if electoral reform is not made.