Sometime ago, in December 2010, Mr. Musa Jeng of the U.S-based Save The Gambia Democracy Project [STGDP] presented in the media a proposal he dubbed ‘‘The Compromise’’ in which he articulated how an agreement could be reached to break the stalemate that has taken grip of the coalition negotiations between the main opposition United Democratic Party [UDP] and a purported representative of PDOIS , with the former joining NADD, a political entity he described as belonging to all opposition parties, and assume leadership of it.
He posited this as the only realistic option to break the stalemate and went on to justify his call on the basis that due to their experience in 2006 and the aftermath, PDOIS will never be willing to go along with what the conventional wisdom dictates and become part of a UDP led coalition. He, however, did not state what this experience was and why UDP should be held responsible for it.
As a result of two recent online radio talk shows in which its chairman, Mr. Banka Manneh, participated, we now understand Mr. Jeng’s proposal to be in total convergence with the position of the Save The Gambia Democracy Project [STGDP].
First of all, the STGDP should be reminded that this process like all coalition negotiations requires an honest approach that puts national interest above all others including ideologies, personal egos and differences. This can only be done if all stakeholders including PDOIS accept the universally practiced conventions and standards of coalition building to be the unfettered guiding principles of negotiations. This requires that the biggest party be adopted as a vanguard and for all other parties and political entities to throw their weight behind.
In 2006, both NADD and UDP presented themselves before the Gambian electorates as independent sovereign political parties and tested their individual electoral strengths. The UDP had almost five times more votes than NADD and currently has more representation in parliament than any other opposition party in The Gambia. It also has a bigger and more robust grass root support base than any other opposition party. To put it in a nutshell; UDP is by far the biggest opposition party in The Gambia. This is irrefutable and beyond questioning. Therefore, I do not see any wisdom whatsoever, in STGDP’s call for the UDP to join a smaller party, NADD, in the guise of compromise. If abandoning one’s party for another is the only solution to this stalemate, then the common sense approach would be for the smaller parties including NADD, to join UDP since the latter is the biggest.
As a matter of fact, what this process requires is not for parties to abandon their ship to join another but for the smaller parties to rally behind the biggest in line with internationally recognised and acceptable standards and norms of coalition building and as a matter of political legitimacy and necessity.
Given the polarising and intractable nature of the NADD dispute of 2006, I find it utterly incomprehensible that the SGTDP would like to think that the resurrection of the same old squabble that causes serious damage to inter-opposition party relations can engender a realistic compromise solution to this impasse. If they had done a careful and balanced assessment of the situation and the facts on the ground, I have no doubt that the STGDP would have realised that this idea has no potential but for the opening of the Pandora’s Box once again. I envisaged no realistic compromise to be engendered let alone realised in that kind of environment.
By virtue of their usage of an unexplained grievance that the PDOIS party apparently holds against the UDP as a sole rational behind their proposal, the STGDP has also failed to take into account the grievances of the UDP in the same respect particularly on the question of registration that altered NADD’s status from that of an alliance to a political party in contravention of the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding [MOU] that established it [NADD] and which cost the leader of the NRP, Mr. Hamat N.K Bah, his parliamentary seat. Therefore, both the UDP and the NRP can and quite legitimately, equally use their experience of 2006 and prior as a justification for their withdrawal and reason for refusing to return to NADD. The premise of STGDP’s compromise proposal is therefore fundamentally flawed in its lack objectivity and appreciation of the facts on the ground.
Their claim that NADD belongs to all opposition parties is not borne by facts. Although the UDP participated in the creation of NADD the alliance, they did actually pull out from the organisation in 2006 after careful consideration. Therefore, if there was any UDP claim to NADD, that claim has been entirely relinquished in 2006 when the party pulled out.
Suffice it to say; the NADD that the UDP participated in creating was intended to be an alliance, not a political party, and this is clearly stipulated in the Preamble and Article 1 of the Memorandum of Understanding [MOU] that established the alliance. However, that creation was completely and utterly obliterated when NADD was clandestinely registered with the Independent Electoral Commission, despite opposition from the UDP, as a political party and thereby changing its nature and status. Therefore, it is completely and utterly erroneous to state that NADD as it currently stands was created by all the opposition parties.
A genuine pursuit of national interest and goals must always be guided by principles and values that are universally recognised and cherished. Otherwise it is bound to fail before it even starts. Thus, the idea that the universal principles and standards that underpin coalition building everywhere in this world should be forgone in our case for national interest is utterly simplistic at best; and disingenuous at worst.
STGDP should also explain why it continues to be their position that it is the UDP that must do everything inconceivable and unheard of to break this coalition stalemate when the PDOIS/NADD party, on the other hand, is ever determined to remain firm in their trenches of unreasonableness and intransigence, not to mention their persistent refusal to reciprocate UDP’s overtures.
If the STGDP wants UDP to return to NADD, then it would be advisable for them to consider actively lobbying for a complete de-registration of NADD so that it can re-claim its original and intended status, an alliance, with a flag bearer chosen from within the UDP and sponsored under a UDP ticket. This must be so as the UDP would still be the largest constituent party in the alliance anyway.
Talking about compromise; the onus is obviously on the smaller parties including PDOIS and NADD to first recognise and accept the political legitimacy of a UDP led alliance, at least in principle, and then state whatever condition[s] they would like to see attached. That way, we can move this process one step forward; from the principal issue of formula to a more secondary issue of conditionality and thereby making compromise more realistic and feasible. This is how a compromise solution can be engendered. However, PDOIS and NADD mustn’t think they can have it both ways; they would have to either indicate their willingness to become part of the proposed UDP led alliance with conditions attached or accept that it isn’t for them to talk about conditionality in that respect.
In my view, the NADD issue is an antiquated one that has not only been rendered obsolete but also lacking taste.
The pronouncement by PDOIS that a party led alliance is only prudent where there is a second round electoral system is the most ridiculous statement ever made in this coalition debate. As far as facts are concern, there is no second round voting system in South Africa and yet it was the ANC that led the coalition which brought President Jacob Zuma to power; there is no second round of voting in India and yet it was Sonia Ghandi’s Indian National Congress that led the coalition which returned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to power; there is no second round voting system in Brazil and yet it is the biggest party that led the coalition which brought that country’s new president, Mrs. Dilma Rousseff, to power. - The list can go on- In all these cases, the idea of a primary to select a leader/candidate had been unthinkable and none-existent. PDOIS’s pronouncement is therefore not only baseless but also and very clearly, a preposterous subterfuge that they are now clinging on, regrettably, to hide their intransigence and refusal to heed to the popular call for the opposition to forge an all inclusive coalition to challenge the incumbent APRC in the forthcoming elections.