By D. A. Jawo
While most Gambians have now given up any participation in all elections as being just another ritualistic exercise in futility, whose real impact on the lives of the people of this country is virtually negative, but certainly the final outcome of the just-ended local government elections contained some pertinent lessons for President Yahya Jammeh and his ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC).
Even though the APRC succeeded in going unopposed in more than half of the 114 council wards throughout the country, but the very fact that their candidate for the mayor of Banjul, the capital, was heavily defeated by one of the three independent candidates who challenged him, was no doubt a wake up call to the party that it is not as invincible as its apologist would want everyone to believe. It was even more significant when even at the very polling station where President Jammeh cast his vote in Banjul, the APRC candidate was heavily defeated by his independent challenger, spoke volumes about the dwindling popularity of the party.
Even the very fact that virtually all the 10 independent candidates that won their seats against their APRC challengers were themselves members of the party that rebelled against its unfair selection criteria, was enough indication that the APRC is crumbling from its shims and it should either reform or face eventual disintegration.
We have seen that all the independent candidates performed quite well against their APRC opponents despite the widespread intimidation and harassment they were subjected to during the process, with some of them being arrested and detained while some others had to run into hiding during the campaign, shows the APRC’s level of unpopularity. It was also quite obvious that the APRC candidates had unlimited access to public resources and state facilities to conduct their campaigns while the independents were denied access to even public spaces to hold campaign rallies.
However, the biggest loser in the elections was Hamat Bah and his National Reconciliation Party (NRP), who, for the second time, decided to break ranks with the other opposition parties and went ahead to contest the elections, thus legitimizing what everyone else in the opposition has agreed is the most unlevelled political terrain in the sub-region.
Therefore, the very fact that his party lost all the 10 wards it contested should be enough lesson to him that the people of this country have no confidence in his politics of appeasement. While he can continue to follow his socalled policy of not boycotting elections, but the people will also no doubt continue to turn their backs on him and his party.
While the verdict on the outcome of the elections is still being analyzed, but it is very obvious that one of the main reasons why the independent candidates performed very well against the APRC in spite of all the intimidation they had been subjected to, was no doubt the arrogance and lack of respect of the ordinary people of this country constantly being manifested by the leadership and militants of the party.
Just imagine the arrogance manifested by the out-going Mayor Samba Faal when he not only failed to turn up in a media debate he had previously agreed with his opponents, but he even had to order the police to lock up the city hall where the debate was supposed to take place without even having the courtesy to notify the organizers of the debate.
We also saw how the second planned debate between the out-going KMC mayor and his opponent had to flop when Mayor Yankuba Colley said he was waiting for permission from his party leader to participate in the debate. It clearly shows that the APRC is a one-man show, which depends for all its activities on the decisions of President Jammeh rather than on its grassroots support base.
Not surprisingly, the election was characterised by a very low turnout, with just slightly over 150, 000 out of more than 400, 000 eligible voters in the contested wards caring to cast their votes, with some of the constituencies registering as low as 26 per cent turnout. Another notable factor was that out of those who voted, slightly over 80, 000 voted for the APRC while about 75,000 voted for the combined opposition. That therefore means that just about 5000 more people voted for the APRC than the combined opposition despite all the resources and facilities available to the party.
The extremely low turnout was seen by many people as an indication that a majority of Gambians no longer take elections seriously, particularly with regards to local government, apparently because they have concluded that the system had been so compromised that it is not worth anyone’s while to waste time and energy to vote. Instead of the high degree of autonomy envisaged in the local government system by the 1997 Constitution, we have all seen how it has been completely subdued and openly manipulated by the executive.
Therefore, most people see the present dispensation as just like an appendix of the ruling APRC, with the municipalities being virtually transformed into APRC bureaus, serving the party more than they are serving the tax payers who finance their operations.
Even though Abdoulie Bah and his supporters and indeed a majority of the people of Banjul and the country as a whole are celebrating this impressive victory against the APRC hegemony, but they should also understand that this also marks the beginning of Mr. Bah’s ordeal as he is sure to encounter quite a lot of obstacles placed on his way by the regime in order to make him fail. We can all recall what happened to a previous independent mayor of Banjul, Pa Sallah Jeng, who was eventually hounded out of office when he was slapped with some trumped-up charges.
Indeed, we have already begun to see mayor-elect Abdoulie Bah being demonized when he was included in a list of people being expelled from the APRC, although he has denied that he had ever been a member of the party. Therefore, it may be the beginning of a scheme by the regime to place all sorts of obstacles on his path just like they did to Pa Sallah Jeng and eventually make him fail.
However, the authorities should be rest assured that the whole world, including the donor community, is closely watching how they are going to comport themselves with regards to their treatment of the mayor-elect and his administration. Therefore, the very credibility of the regime in the eyes of the international community hinges on their treatment of the new Banjul City Council administration.