Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Appearances Of An Uneven Path To Election

NEWS AND REPORT EDITORIAL-  Following the November 24 victory of the ruling APRC party at the presidential poll, we have all deservedly been awaiting the advent of the national assembly elections at the end of this month.  However, as the crucial dates approach for this event, i.e., the nomination of candidates and the elections, certain developments have given us cause to believe that, rather a smooth ride to these national events,  an uneven and even bumpy ride will lie ahead for all concerned--from the APRC to the  opposition parties and even the Independent Electoral Commission, whose chairman went on a nationwide tour of sensitisation, to ensure widespread compliance with the laws and understanding of IEC’s role in the conduct of the polls.
            Thus, for its part, the ruling APRC party appears to be greatly concerned with a phenomenon it terms the “imposition of candidates on the electorates.”   Expressing concern, it even consequently came out with a press release, issued from the Office of the President and signed by the Secretary General President’s Office and Head of the Civil Service, Mr. Njogu
Bah himself.   Thus is evidence of the APRC breaking away from tradition and the normal practice of separating political party mattters from matters that fall under the purview of the government?  By this one stroke  of  the Secretary General, the government could be said to have nullified any achievement of the IEC Chairman’s tour during which, poor Mustapha Carayol, had so strenously belaboured the need to separate politics from government.
            But as is well known, this is too true the reality for the opposition in this country.  The observer missions, and even the foiled ECOWAS mission, were concerned enough about the matter at the presidential election level to make an issue of it.  In other words, our much tauted marble system of voting, which has been the basis for our strong believe that we have a most fair, transparent and free system of voting, cannot stand the test of scrutiny,  over the concept  of a level playing field.  How can they contest the elections fairly when they have their hands tied behind their backs? The opposition contends. 
            This argument of the opposition also goes on to entail, in comparison to the ruling party, their ill endowed resource base.   As Halifa Sallah also put it,  subsequent to their  closed door meeting at the IEC’s conference room, at which the political parties issued a joint declaration to the IEC Chairman, Gambia’s opposition are firm in their demand for the country’s electoral commission to level the uneven political playing field in  order for them to participate in the forthcoming parliamentary elections.
            As he further explained,“When you say election, it should be candidate versus candidate, but what we have here is the state ministers, governors, and chiefs using government vehicles or vehicles of public enterprises and go with the green boys and girls and moving with securities.
“When you have that convoy entering a village, even the villagers will become frightened. So if you are the village head, you do not want your village to be associated with the opposition.”
He continued: “So in many instances, you don’t see anything that has to do with the opposition in such a village. That is why when guests come into this country, they ask where are the flags of the opposition because in  many instances when you have opposition flags in a particular village, the village head would ask you to remove it, not to put him in trouble.”  
Though they promised, at least up to that time, not to boycott the poll, the opposition say they are united against going into what Hamat Bah, leader of the NRP, describes as ‘sham elections’.
“I don’t believe in boycotting elections, but this time round, we must be heard,” Mr Bah told waiting journalists at the premises of the Election House as he emerged from IEC’s conference room (where political parties held their closed-door meeting with the electoral commission).
As part of preparations for the March 29 National Assembly elections, the meeting, according to participants, briefed political parties about developments relating to the forthcoming elections. The opposition nonetheless have also used the occasion to remind IEC about their call for electoral reforms first before polls.   
“The opposition parties, seven of them have presented for consideration a document to the IEC on what should be done to ensure that there is genuine elections in The Gambia,” Halifa Sallah, secretary general of opposition PDOIS disclosed.
“If IEC comes to agree with that, obviously we will be moving forward, but we are saying that in the absence of genuine election then all the opposition parties are likely to meet again to take a common position on the election.”  

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