Tuesday, March 13, 2012
We must lead by putting people first
By: Jeggan Grey-Johnson
There is likely to be no opposition member in the National Assembly for the next five years, thanks to the shocking stance taken by the opposition parties in The Gambia to ‘boycott’ the polls. This is a startling reminder of the uphill journey we need to travel whilst treading a path to democracy. Never before had politicians and leaders demonstrated such disregard, and done such a great dis service to not only their own constituencies, but the entire Gambian populace. And history will not treat them kindly.
The fact that the opposition failed to unite as one, much like is currently happening in Senegal, was mind boggling enough; because it was clear to all and sundry that a divided opposition cannot win under any dispensation that focuses on the first past the post rule. This is because the power of incumbency in most African countries is simply too dominant to be shaken the first time around when a simple majority determines the winner. It is simple arithmetic- not quantum mechanics.
The message that such disunity cemented by delusional utterances by all the parties that faced off with the incumbent in November was deafening- Gambian opposition had lost its way, and was not listening to the very people they claim to represent. Not only was defeat inevitable, it was the worst loss ever registered in our 52 year electoral and pluralistic-political history.
All thanks in no small part to the few leading figures in opposition that decided to drag us back into a total majoritarian dispensation. And as if this was not enough, for good measure, they have now decided to do the ‘clever’ thing and abdicate their responsibility by abusing the public trust, and refrain from participating in perhaps the most important elections in Gambia’s history- the National Assembly polls of 2012. This tactic was used by UDP in 2002, and where that that get us?
A 45 to three ratio (of elected members), due to 33 uncontested constituencies, which landed us at a destination whereby an overwhelming majority belonging to one party used their numbers to bulldoze any law they pleased, without being challenged and put to scrutiny.
Democracy is about debate, because it is the only way we can explore the best concepts possible for our own future by engaging in the market place of ideas where the best idea is bought through the rigors of transparency and public scrutiny. After all, the laws do not only apply to those that pass them, but those that elected the passers of such laws.
In essence, the decision to boycott the National Assembly elections by the opposition parties is undemocratic. This is so because the opposition parties have stated that they are representatives of a collective, a people of various ethnic and religious groups of varying socio economic brackets. They have endlessly touted their democratic credentials, and chided the incumbency of being a closed entity with serious democratic deficits.
However, the question remains: how was the decision to boycott the National Assembly elections reached? Was there a congress or caucusing of the majority of members of the opposition parties to agree to the boycott, or was the decision taken by a handful of party ‘leaders’ behind closed doors? If the latter is the case, which evidence points to, then, again, there is hypocrisy afoot.
No right thinking representative of any constituency can claim to be doing the honorable thing if he/she takes a deliberate stance to deny people a voice in the house of the nation, whose mandate is to represent a public who have a right to be heard.
Yet, with the stroke of a pen, the opposition parties silenced the many that had hoped for alternative views, with the objective of consolidating governance through sound law and policy making processes, under the guidance of voices of reason and plurality. The motive for the boycott, according to the coalition opposition (which is hardly that since NRP ironically went rouge, whilst UDP fell in line: a complete reversal of misfortunes only four months ago!), is due to the lack of reforms in the electoral process, powerlessness of the IEC to assert itself and lack of independence to ensure that parties adhere to campaign rules like civil and security service neutrality and party financing, as well as a non-compliant registration process.
As a result, there was a clarion call to postpone the date of the National Assembly elections to a later period. The reasons are seemingly noble and genuine, but its expectations are unrealistic. There is no way that the IEC would be able to embark on such reforms within the immediate or even short term (by which one forecasts to be at least one year), it is costly, and it will require some legislating as well; something that only a National Assembly member can do. So in essence, the abdication of responsibility is in plain view, with persons that have an opportunity to institute such reforms asking an overstretched and curtailed entity that they are supposed to oversee (if they get a seat in the Assembly) to implement something it clearly cannot.
The issue about postponement does not hold water either. It has been about four months since the presidential elections, and in that time, opposition parties should have put their house in order, deployed their strategy and started campaigning. No one stopped them from doing targeted community ‘visits’, after all, this is not illegal. But they did not. They sulked, winced and grumbled. The fact that the IEC missed the prescribed period of holding National Assembly elections, should not be an issue for debate.
If the opposition is saying that IEC has gone against the constitution, then why call upon it to further violate the law by asking for an extension to such a time-lapse? That is like staying away from work for an extra two hours simply because you were already an hour late!
Finally, if the opposition wanted to be taken seriously, they should have called it what it was from the onset, prior to the November presidential elections, and drawn the line in the sand and stand as a united front and shunned the process then. Not now, when citizens need representation in the house of the people.
To risk handing over a whole institution like a National Assembly, which is the front line establishment of governance to a de facto single party, is unsafe, naïve and amateurish. Absolutism is too much a temptation for mischief. Five years without voices of debate and diversity is dull and dangerous. A lot can be done to prescribe how we are to live, which can change our lives forever. There are 1.7 million people who depend on their representatives to do the right thing- to make laws that fulfill the aspirations of the many, not just the few. Because not all laws that a majority endorses are necessarily good laws. That is where illegal laws exist. Dante (literary theorist and moral philosopher) once said that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a period of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality. I am not a partisan nor am I neutral.
I state my views in the interest of the citizenry who deserve to be represented better, through a promotion of ideas founded on popular participation and a strong, legitimate and respectable National Assembly- a house of the citizenry that is able to make good legislation which shall govern our homeland, so it becomes a land of laws and not one of men. But we must commence with dedication, where justice must guide our actions. The move to shy away from the democratic process, as imperfect as it may be, is action that cannot be justified.