After their surprise victory over Yahya Jammeh, ending the man’s 22-year-old grip on power, the governing Coalition government in the Gambia is already beginning to shake as a bitter row emerged over principles and methodology.
Even before the dust settled from a two-month long bruising battle against a formidable adversary, cracks have emerged in the ranks of Coalition 2016 – the loose collection of political parties who surprised even themselves to defeat iron-fisted President Yahya Jammeh in last December Gambia elections.
At the heart of the burning rancour is how the coalition members would stay together in government and still run different political agendas through their parties. The matter came into sharper focus in the recent nominations for national assembly elections when a vote, after a disagreement over whether the Coalition should contest as one block or on party lines, gave birth to the strategy called tactical alliance. So-called because it means that members of the Coalition will be united only by the name ‘Coalition’ but will contest the elections on their own and endeavour to avoid putting up candidates against each other.
This loose arrangement was short-lived because further divisions manifest on the modalities for such an alliance. For example, which party will contest in which constituency.
One party came up with 36 constituencies saying they will not negotiate over that. However, that led PDOIS’s Halifa Sallah asking serious questions such as: if one party alone takes 36 out of 53 how many seats would be left for the other six parties in the Coalition? and how will the Coalition supporters take ownership of the candidates if all parties are on their own?
Mr Sallah’s party had abstained in the voting to adopt the Tactical Alliance module but he made no secret of PDOIS’s position on the matter. His party proposed to bring all Coalition party candidates for a primary and select the winners to contest under the Coalition ticket as independent candidates.
“In this way, we have control over who becomes MP and there will be no voter apathy as the same voters who supported the Coalition’s presidential candidate are sure to vote for its Parliamentary candidates,’’ Mr Sallah said.
On the other side of the argument is the United Democratic Party ( UDP) from where the Coalition president Adama Barrow resigned to contest for the presidency. They are adamant that any arrangement other than contesting on party lines will kill party politics and the whole house will be filled with independent candidates who would be loose cannons without any sense of belonging.
“I believed we can still be united under the Coalition even if all parties contest on their own,’’Ousainou Darboe, leader of the UDP said.
To the many Gambians who have a renewed sense of patriotism and freedom believe that the new wind of change brought about by the Coalition should be jealously guarded. Any split over the legislative elections is an unwelcome distraction to their new earned and much-cherished freedom.
Whoever wins the legislative elections or control the Parliament will have to work with an executive mandated to deliver the expectations of a politically galvanised nation.
Another potential point of friction, seemingly far away in the distance but certainly not far in the minds of the coalition partners is the ‘gentleman’ agreement they drafted back in October for the eventual winner to serve for only three years in office. Though Mr Barrow is on record to have said he has every intention to respect it, recent comments by the leader of UDP Ousainou Darboe suggest there is a change of stand, at least on the part of Mr Darboe. “I will challenge that in court because the constitution says the President’s term should last for five years,’’ he told a news gathering in March this year.
However, there is little sign that members are interested in that debate as yet. Halifa Sallah of PDOIS even downplayed the issue by saying that it was not important an issue as it all depend on Mr Barrow to keep his word or do as he wishes and far as the constitution allows him.
This early tension in the embryonic days of the Coalition government may appear to be surmountable but many here says that Barrow is struggling to remain neutral amongst the coalition partners, especially when members of his former party UDP are acting and sounding as the bonafide ruling party. Such antics can only injure the now fragile bond between the ruling Coalition members.