There is so much talk and anxiety about the Barrow coalition breaking apart and the new Gambia many people fought for doomed. I wonder how many Gambians sit down and think about what truly constitutes the coalition government. So many people are so confused they are getting really frustrated and others throwing the towel in despair. Many of these people are either new to politics and or may not understand the dynamics of politics.
From a simple explanation the Barrow coalition consists of various political parties and one independent candidate. The leaders maintained the structures of their various parties and came together to rally behind one candidate to contest the presidential elections. It is known to every honest Gambian that regardless of what had happened, not a single political party could have won elections against Jammeh. Despite putting together seven political parties and an strong independent candidate, the APRC were only defeated with 18,000 votes. Peal off PDOIS, NRP or any other party Jammeh would have won the elections with simple majority. So all the pieces of the parcel are critical in the coalition unless they choose not to be a part of what they founded.
However, it is important to note that the current cabinet is what constitute the coalition. Regardless of whether one party chooses to not be part of the cabinet, the Barrow coalition government remained intact. So long as all the opposition parties holding cabinet positions maintained their ministerial positions, the coalition is still together. Now, if three or four of the political party ministers were to resigned from their ministerial positions then we can agree that the coalition has collapse.
Another important point readers need to understand is that the Executive branch and the legislative branch are two independent institutions. These are two very important branches of government which ideally should never be dominated by the party in power. During the first and the second republic both the cabinet and the legislative branches were never independent of each other and as a result what we had was pretty much a rubber stamping parliament that at no point held the executive to account. In fact, structurally it was worst during the Jawara government in that cabinet ministers were also elected members of the national assembly. Though the 1997 constitution changed that, what we ended up with at the national assembly under Jammeh’s dictatorship was simply a mockery called a national assembly. It was filled with people who did not even finish their high school education much less attend college. Those APRC MPs turned that powerful institution to a toothless institute of national embarrassment.
So the fundamental question to people who are expected to understand the separation of powers in our constitution, is why would you want to see a national assembly that would pretty much sign off on anything that the executive brings to the house without scrutiny? If you understand the significance of an Independent legislative body to function effectively in checking the powers of the executive, then you would never advocate for the president to have an easy pass or monopoly over the legislative body and the judiciary. In fact, Democracies function well when leaders are able to go out and put together a coalition of independent minded citizens from different political leanings. The idea that President Adama Barrow cannot implement the coalition reform agenda without having majority in the National Assembly is simply a lame excuse. President Barrow needs to roll his sleeves and go to work to show Gambians that his reform agenda is in the best interest of our democracy regardless of party affiliation. He should be able to sell his reform agenda with or without a majority National Assembly.
In essence, the people arguing that President Barrow needed the parliamentary elections to be contested under the coalition ticket so he can implement his reform policies just doesn’t get it. If you agree that the coalition government is in fact constituted by party leaders coming together to form the government, why couldn’t the National Assembly members from various parties after their elections to the house also form another coalition to support the coalition agenda? People who understand the significance of an independent legislative body see the proposed tactical alliance as a viable option. It was initially thought out to be another form of alliance that would allow experience members of various parties who don’t serve in the cabinet to win their seats so they can play a crucial role in the legislative body. This proposed arrangement particularly favors smaller parties like PDOIS who could hardly get their otherwise strong candidates elected to the National Assembly. It is an indisputable fact that Halifa lost his last Parliamentary seat because UDP and APRC both put up candidates against him in Serekunda. There was another risk of him losing that seat again if both parties put up candidates against him. While he may pull a large number of votes, the three way split doesn’t favor him. Same argument could be made for other candidates with the exception of Sidia Jatta who dominated his Wuli seat for years. It is well known that serving in the national Assembly is one of the reasons Halifa and Sidia refused to serve in the Barrow cabinet so they could continue to serve as checks and balances on the executive.
So the idea that the coalition is doomed without contesting the national assembly under an independent banner is simply false and based on fear and nothing else. Another myth that people appear to be so upset about is the fear that the UDP could dominate the National Assembly and therefore have their own agenda. There is no evidence apart from fear that if the UDP were to win majority seats in parliament they will be able to dictate the legislative agenda. In fact, all other party members and some independent candidates in the National Assembly could also form bonds to have majority votes to present a strong alternative to a potential rubber stamping UDP parliament. Besides, who said a UDP dominated National Assembly would not support President Barrow’s agenda for reform? So what is the fear and on what basis? Democracy is about winning votes and forming coalitions. There is nothing guaranteed and if the UDP were to want to hijack the coalition governing agenda and fail to implement much needed reforms, other parties and citizens can form another coalition to remove them from power.
Senegal gives us a clear example of how political parties can come together to remove the incumbent and yet they go back into their various parties and contest the national assembly on party tickets. We have not heard about coalition break up in Senegal or tribal politics because of one party potential domination over another. So those who feel that this is the end of the coalition government as we knew it should take a chill pill and let the situation take care of itself. There is simply no reason for overreaction and or calls for tribal politics even in this 21st century. Those peddling those petty divides must be isolated and forced to defend their narrow nationalism towards their fellow citizens.
Commentary by Demba Baldeh associate editor ..
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