Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: With less than six months to go into the presidential elections on December 4, it is becoming evident that this election with the First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system will be no ordinary presidential contest; instead, this election is extraordinary as Adama Barrow, and the other presidential aspirants are in existential moments for democracy, or everything is an existential threat in this democratic experiment.
What is at stake is the future of Gambia’s democratic republic. However, instead, it seems that a pivotal moment in our political life is approaching, with Adama Barrow and its allied political party collaborators and the opposition are embarking on a strategic course that is far more ambitious and combative than in 2016 presidential elections, seeking to alter the fundamental postulates of the democratic framework of the Gambian nation.
No matter how much liberal, conservative, or socialists establishments insist that this presidential election present only a “binary choice,” the fact is that Gambians do not want either of these options put in front of them.
This election is not just a fight between two political parties. Instead, there is a binary choice between choosing what is best for the Gambia and her sovereign goals over decades of politics of anachronism, corruption, and tribal politics.
Fatoumatta: It is a binary choice between the Gambia moving forward, as we have done throughout history, versus backward governance that would drag the Gambia further apart under ethnic chauvinism. On December 4, Gambians will either re-elect Adama Barrow to a second term into the presidency or elect a new President that will end insecurity, impunity, grow the economy, create hope and jobs, and build a more cohesive nation to ensure social justice. Unfortunately, this presidential election could be a life-or-death decision.
It could be an election of hope and despair but is not about critical issues and challenges; instead, it about electing the lesser evil. That is why this may become the extreme-right leader Jean -Marie Le Pen election. In the last election that Jacque Chirac was elected President of France in 2002, a journalist interviewed a lady headed to vote and asked whom she preferred. The Lady said, “I am going to vote against Le Pen.” “So you are voting for Chirac?” The Lady clarified that she was voting against Le Pen, not for Chirac. In other words, Chirac was not her choice, but she could not live with a Le Pen Presidency. What about the issues that divide Gambians? Yes, there are issues marked by poor governance in our lethargy for change, rampant corruption tribal bigotry in the Gambia systemic on a national scale. However, there are localized issues that are dealt with when exposed and sadly often through a tragedy. As generations change, fewer and fewer localized examples of poor governance and corruption exist.
Adama Barrow will have a difficult reelection battle in the remaining six months and a very short time to make his case to and for the Gambian people. Adama Barrow needs to demonstrate a vision of law and order, economic growth, and sovereign interests, which helps us realize national unity. Of course, there are many other issues. However, a vision of a future of individual freedom over one bound to a government-run society will likely attract more voters to Adama Barrow. Binarism has civic usefulness, too: A voter who believes in picking between the top two candidates will not insist on finding the perfect candidate or boycott elections on the ground that one cannot be found.
Nevertheless, the force of the binarist premise is radically diminished when neither candidate meets minimal fitness standards for office for reasons of character or policy or both. Judgments about these matters will, of course, vary. In my view, candidates who lack honesty or self-control fall short of those standards. So do those who advocate the deliberate exposure of innocent human beings to lethal violence and being a propone t of political tribalism and the leader who could not restrain the dishonesty and cupidity of his servants.
An alternative to binarism would be to vote based on whether one can wish that a candidate becomes President in good conscience. If both of the top two candidates meet that criterion, vote for the better one; if neither does, then, at least as a general matter, vote for someone else. The two major parties have enough advantages in our system without giving them a moral veto over other choices they do not deserve.
Unfortunately, this December 4 election is not about the not-so-great ideas that each political party or independent candidates are presenting, but what man or woman every Gambian is trying to ensure does not ascend to power. One side of the Gambia will vote to confirm that Adama Barrow will be elected to become President, while the other side shall be voting to ensure Ousainou Darboe and other candidates do not come to power. Do not be fooled by these Sosalasso politicians and their big rallies. Some of these “Sosalasso parties” and “Tangal Cheeb politicians” with some other senior members of Adama Barrow’s National People’s Party (NPP) are soul mates and will be with Barrow’s side. This alliance of “Sosalasso” smaller parties participating in the 2016 presidential election will support Adama Barrow. However, this time he will be on the ballot as an Independent coalition candidate instead of representing the National People’s Party (NPP). In comparison, Adama Barrow is building a coalition of ethnic minorities Pentagon in this election. Barrow and his NPP have improved on a block of ethnic minority coalition Pentagon this time.
However, the factors defining this presidential election are four: the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC) report and its recommendations may be consequential if it does not become a political ghost, the structure and party organization and the strength of the campaign, ethnic mobilization of minorities in the light of First -Past-Post voting system,( Simple Majority) and money. Nothing else has changed since 1997 except that Ousainou Darboe is not a kingmaker. However, the candidate on the ballot and all politically embarrassed candidates have united to stand up to him. The stakes have never been higher in the history of elections since the previous elections ended twenty-two of the malevolent dictatorship of former President Yahya Jammeh.
Fatoumatta: Adama Barrow and his NPP broader coalition side have everything to lose if they do not win this presidential election and everything to gain; they have to capture power to deal with the toxic politic and tribal division, mega corruption, and the insecurity challenging hanging around his neck. He does not trust anyone, including the opposition, to unhook him from the corruption and tribal bigotry hanger. So Barrow has to mobilize his supporters by asserting that Ousainou Darboe instigated and undermined the collapse of the coalition transition agenda and the partisan animosity and the polarized Gambia. Adama Barrow supporters do not need to pursue hegemony regardless of power. No matter how strong it becomes, he will call for a more fair and equitable good governance. Even Ousainou Darboe’s supporters may not believe in Adama Barrow everything he says religiously. So here is a toast to our degenerate political culture.
Fatoumatta: The way to organize to capture power in The Gambia is to create a mortal enemy out there and mobilize your ethnic community around it. This works because people have seen that when the strong men get into power, they give their cronies and tribe members the key ministries. In the end, resources, plum jobs, and contracts go to those who voted for the winner. To succeed in consolidating your voting bloc, one must inspire fear through narratives of betrayal and victimization, marginalization and exclusion. This election’s most potent narrative: insecurity, corruption, impunity, lack of tough security reforms, institutional reforms, and tribal bigotry and unemployment. What is amazing is how Ousainou Darboe has flipped flopped on this matter so many times since he served in the very myopic administration of all times.
However, secondly, money has to be used. The amounts of money that are used are mind-boggling. Ordinary Gambians do not donate money for campaign fiances as Americans did for former President Brack Obama in the US like Gambians in the Diaspora community in the 2016 presidential elections in small and crowdfunding. The big dark money used in our politics is looted chiefly from the public coffers, drug dealers, business tax evasion, lobbyist and special interest groups, and many other illicit sources. Gambians have encouraged this to go on as we are desperate to be bribed with dirty money. So we have no one to blame.
Fatoumatta: The pre-election coalitions that are being hammered this election are a necessary survival tactic because of the reality of the First-Past -the Post voting system ( the Simple Majority) needed to win the presidency like in the previous elections. Therefore, there is no pretense to some agenda in the ongoing coalition talks because this is the bottom line. Unfortunately for “Solasso political partie”s and their leaders and others, they have to deal with public opinion, attitudes, the dynamics between democracy and ” Big Man ” politics, and the crisis of ethnic chauvinism, political economics, and ideology. However, most political leaders have never tried to organize politics differently except for one or two parties.
Here come the existential threats. The inadequate political leadership requires principled leaders to double down on respect for the rule of law, protect democratic institutions, and embrace civility. The quality of Journalism, real journalism in all its forms, is under assault, often from bad-faith actors and from those who want a quick buck trafficking in anger and grievances. Journalists must work every day determined to protect democracy and speak truth to power, especially those who repeat lies that only divide. Business people also need to shut off the flow of campaign cash to every single politician in all political parties who will not abide by the standard and long-standing rules of political behavior. to act in inciting more political violence and tribal bigotry comment, and actions halfway through the transition to, heretofore unimaginable, pose a genuine threat to the well-being of our country and the suitability of our democracy.
Fatoumatta: It is up to Gambia voters who reject this kind of reality to organize politics differently by building new winning alliances based on the interests of the Gambian workers, women, entrepreneurs, the youth, the marginalized, and the disadvantaged. However, unfortunately, these groups will have to finance a new political organization and candidates to dictate what government does for them. Currently, politicians do what they want with impunity because they have purchased our government and us. We are their stock in the stock exchange.
Alagi Yorro Jallow