Gambia: Why Did Coalition Negotiators Agree to Three Years?

opinion

The Coalition aimed to have a non-partisan transitional government that has no other mandate but to ensure constitutional, institutional, civil service, security and other reforms aimed at creating a democratic society that would enable each Gambian to take ownership of himself or herself as sovereign citizen free from inducement or intimidation. It was unanimously agreed that a period of three years was enough to effect all the changes and development necessary for a transitional government to carry out its mandate.

It was envisaged that the transitional president would have no vested partisan interest and would maintain an Independent posture and create a level ground for future multi-party contest.

Since it took two years after the 1994 coup for the coup makers to restore an electoral system in 1996, the coalition members agreed that they could carry out all the reforms necessary in three years and then hold an election on a level ground for parties to contest on the basis of what they have to offer the electorate.

When the agreement was made, no one knew who would be the presidential candidate. Hence the reduction of term was not directed at any personality. It was designed to put a definitive end to self-perpetuating rule by leaving behind an unrivalled legacy of cutting down a presidential mandate and focus on building the pillars of democracy which a successor government would never be able to break again.

The truth that does not deserve to be swept under the carpet is that a candidate to an election cannot be equated with a President.

President Barrow has to abide by a Constitution which allows him to resign before five years under section 65 of the Constitution or stay up to five years under section 63 of the Constitution. The choice is his to make and he has chosen to stay for five years and even contest the elections following the end of his five-year term. Is there a constitutional way of pinning him down to serve for five years? Is any Gambian political leader proposing an unconstitutional way of pinning him down to three years? How will he be removed and who will replace him? On what constitution will the successor rely on to govern? We have made it very clear that under Section 65 subsection (3) of the current constitution if a President resigns or dies, the Vice President must serve the rest of the term and if there is no Vice President, the Speaker of the National Assembly would serve the rest of the term.

Those who initially contracted the three-year mandate envisaged that there would have been constitutional reform before the end of the three-year mandate to ensure that in case of vacancy in the Presidency due to death or resignation, elections to the office of president would be conducted within 90 days. This reform has not taken place. Hence the original objective for setting the mandate of the transitional president to three years in order to put an end to the trend towards self-perpetuating rule and create a level ground for multi-party contest has been derailed. The Supporting constitutional changes are yet to be undertaken.

Unless the supporting constitutional reform takes place, if the President were to vacate his office it is the Vice President who would have the mandate to serve the rest of his term. If there is no Vice President, the Speaker will serve the rest of the term. This is how matters stand.

As long as some people keep on distorting the facts, Foroyaa will keep on publishing them so that people would not unthinkingly propose agendas whose outcome would be diametrically opposed to their intentions. The constructive debate that should start after President Barrow had a change of heart is yet to start. Do you want to see a Gambia led by President Barrow after three years? Do you want to see a Gambia led by His Vice President after three years? Do you want to see a Gambia led by the Speaker after three years if the Vice President were also to resign with him? Do you want to see a president arising from an election, if so, how such an election could be conducted under the current constitution?

A seriously meant debate is necessary to build a national consensus on what is right, proper and constitutional. Building castles in the air is not an option to mature thinking and display of unfettered and untainted realism. Situations are dynamic. Mature people must continue to interpret situations, accept the hard facts and turn new pages to accommodate new realities, otherwise one sticks to old mind sets and pursues unachievable goals.

Those who do not have a mind of their own should ask their leaders to tell them the truth regarding the unanimous decision by coalition aspirants to serve a term of three years with the sole motive of leaving a legacy of self-abnegation in the discharge of public service. They should also ask them to state their position to the decision by President Barrow not to observe the criteria established for his candidature.

Any argument that the Coalition should not have established the criteria or that they were established for a motive should be seen as attempt to cover up unpleasant facts with unsubstantiated platitudes. Neither President Barrow nor any aspirant who contested for the candidature of the coalition was opposed to the three-year mandate or had ever argued that it was designed with ulterior motives. Hence supporters who do not quote the opinions of the stakeholders are bent on substituting fiction for facts and must not be allowed and will not be allowed to succeed in deceiving public opinion.

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