The Gambia has just come out of the most hotly contested as well as contentious elections that this country had ever had for a very long time. The outcome was however a surprise to many people, even to President-elect Adama Barrow’s own supporters. For instance, we heard one of his National People’s Party strategists during the campaign, giving him between 46 and 52 per cent of the vote. Therefore, the very fact that he ended up getting 53.2% means that his victory is beyond their own expectations.
We should however congratulate Team Barrow for putting up such a spirited campaign and succeeding in scoring a landslide victory against all the predictions to the contrary. Therefore, regardless of one’s views of the conduct of the elections, it is quite obvious that the Barrow camp had put up a much more effective campaign than the opposition, which no doubt gave them the results that they had wanted.
Now that the election is over, what next both for President Barrow and the opposition? It is said that three of the candidates; Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party, Mamma Kandeh of the Gambia Democratic Congress and Essa Mbye Faal, an independent candidate, have issued a statement rejecting the results and promising to challenge them. Of course, they are perfectly within their rights to do so if they indeed have credible evidence that the results were fraudulently obtained. However, we hope that everything would be done in accordance with the dictates of the electoral law and that they would urge their supporters to keep calm while they proceed with the process. We were quite lucky that we had a peaceful campaign and we would wish to see that peace continue regardless of the outcome of the challenge to the results.
However, one pertinent question many people seem to ask is why they had to wait until after the results were declared that they would come together to try and form a common front. If they had done it much earlier, probably the results would have been different. It looks like putting the cart before the horse.
How did Team Barrow manage to pull such a surprising victory? It is no doubt due to several factors which of course include the effective use of the incumbency factor. We have seen, for instance that they had not only been using government resources to the fullest, including the use of government vehicles and fuel, but they had also capitalised on the state-sponsored ‘Meet the People’s Tour’ and other official functions using state resources to campaign, which was certainly unfair to the opposition. Another factor which no doubt helped Team Barrow was the failure of the opposition to put up a united front, especially considering the fact that the election was based on the 1997 Constitution which only required first-past-the-post instead of a 50-plus as was recommended in the Draft 2020 Constitution which was defeated in the National Assembly, apparently at the instigation of President Barrow and his supporters.
While it is true that President Barrow had more than 50 percent of the vote and therefore even with a new constitution, he could have still won in the first round, but there is a high possibility that if there was a second round of voting, the opposition could have made extra effort to force him to it with the hope of defeating him in the run-off. However, whether it was due to the opposition candidates’ self-confidence to go it alone or their lack of trust of each other, as well as ideological differences, they chose to go it on their own and that has no doubt contributed to their defeat by Team Barrow.
Another interesting feature of the campaign was the split of the APRC and the role that its former leader, ex-President Yahya Jammeh seems to have played in diving his own party. While the Fabakary Tombong Jatta faction tried hard to dismiss the ‘No to Alliance’ splinter group which got ex-President Jammeh’s backing and eventually allied with Mamma Kandeh as insignificant, but Kandeh’s results in the Fonis and some parts of Kombo had definitely shown that they had the numbers. Therefore, if the APRC executive wants to keep their party intact, they should try and reconcile the two factions, otherwise, it would soon die a natural death and get absorbed into the NPP and the GDC.
In fact it was thanks to the ‘No to Alliance’ faction that Mamma Kandeh had received more support in the Fonis than in any other part of the country, including Jimara, where he originated.
Now that President Barrow has been re-elected with a comfortable majority and given a strong mandate to rule this country for another five years, we expect him to consolidate his style of administration. We understand that during his first five years, he was not only constrained by inexperience but he was also presiding over a transitional government composed of a coalition of parties and other interest groups to whom he was obligated to cater for. However, now that he has got his own mandate, he has no excuse not to take full charge of his administration and appoint a more effective team to run the affairs of the country. He needs to tackle the wanton corruption and inefficiency that seem to pervade his administration. Therefore with the very long line of supporters and sympathizers that had joined his campaign team, he has definitely got quite a large pool of talents to choose from and as such, he has no excuse not to get the right people to help him run an efficient administration.
However, it is very obvious that the vast majority of those who rushed to join his campaign team, were looking for some crumbs and other mundane gains from his victory rather than any other conviction. Therefore, he is definitely not obliged to pick his his team from that group. Instead, he has over two million Gambians to choose from and we expect him to take his time and pick a good team.
One group that seems not to have come out of the elections unscathed is the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which had been accused of several things by several players. We have not only heard some people accuse some senior officials of the IEC of being UDP sympathizers, but even President Barrow was heard admonishing the IEC Chairman Alieu Momar Njai at the MacCarthy Square on election day, urging him to be a fair referee. We have also seen how badly the IEC seems to have handled the cases of some of those candidates who were disqualified from contesting due to some procedural issues. It clearly shows that the IEC needs a strong legal department which it seems to lack in order to interpret and strictly abide by the law. There is no doubt that if the IEC had a well resourced legal department, it would have handled some of those cases more efficiently.
Of course, while we understand the IEC being extra-careful in its handling of the election results, considering the embarrassing error that they made in the 2016 elections, but there was certainly no justification in them keeping the whole nation in suspense for such an indefinite period. Yet, they did even have the courtesy to inform the people what had caused the delay nor even apologize for the long wait. They seem to have taken the people for granted, which was really unfair.
Now that the elections are over, we now expect the IEC to be revamped with a more efficient and versatile staff, with the stamina and capability to handle the complex task it is charged with. That should of course include the retirement of its octogenarian chairman, who is definitely quite tired and needs a well deserved rest. While he has done quite well and served the country diligently, but certainly, looking at his recent comportment and demeanor, he no longer has the physical and mental capability to carry on. Therefore, everyone expects him to call it quits as soon as possible.
While President-elect Barrow should be pre-occupied with putting up an efficient team to help him run the country for the next five years, we expect the opposition to also take their time to analyze their poor performance to see where they may have faltered in their campaign strategies and what they need to do in order to plan for the forthcoming National Assembly elections and beyond. We certainly need a strong opposition in order to keep a check on the administration.
Indeed, President Barrow’s victory speech at the MacCarthy Square in Banjul immediately after the declaration of the results, in which he congratulated his opponents for the part they played in maintaining the peace during the campaign was quite commendable. However, it is quite necessary that he goes beyond that and extend a hand of reconciliation to them after such an acrimonious campaign. One way of doing that is to wait until after tempers have cooled down then invite them to a tete-a-tete meeting, either individually or as a group so that they can discuss issues of national concern. They may be political opponents but certainly they are not enemies and they all should set their eyes on the bigger picture; which is the Gambia.