Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why we are where we are

The United Democratic Party under the leadership of Ousainou Darboe since it was formed in 1996 has been the leading vote getter in all of the four presidential elections.  To make this claim without showing incontrovertible proof at this point will deviate from the central theme of this piece.  But there are many Gambians and outside groups who are convinced that all three presidential elections were rigged by Jammeh and his APRC cronies and enforcers, and the real winner was Ousainou Darboe.  ECOWAS refused to endorse the results of the Presidential elections of 2011 because they were deemed not to be free and fair. However, until there's strong evidence that can stand the legal test, I will temper my provocative statement with a qualifier to say that the UDP has been the leading vote getter of all the opposition parties including the most recent presidential elections in 2011.

In 1996,  UDP received nearly 150,000 votes or 36% of total votes cast, compared to NRP's 22,000 or 6% and PDOIS's 11,000 votes or 3%.  The APRC won with 220,000 or 56% of the votes.   The 2001 results followed a similar pattern with the vote distribution among the opposition showing little change with UDP winning 33%, down from the previous election by 3 percentage points.  APRC also experienced a decline in percentage points.  the main beneficiary of the percentage decline experienced by both APRC and UDP was the NRP which improved from its 1996 performance by 2 percentage points to 8%.  PDOIS's percentage share remained the same.

In 2006, UDP in alliance with NRP and GPDP share fell to 27% as compared to 6% for PDOIS.  Of course, APRC won with 67% of the total votes.   The 2011 election results were an outlier because the PARC share of the votes suddenly increased  from 67% in 2006 to 72% despite an increasingly unpopular regime which explains why, in part, why ECOWAS refused to endorse the results.  In that year, the UPD, in alliance with GMC, PPP and NCP secured 17% of the total votes cast and the United Front composed of PDOIS, PPP, NDAM and led by hamat bah won 11% of the votes.

From these numbers alone, it is safe to claim that the UDP is the leading opposition party in The Gambia by far.  How can such a superior position be so whittled, and so trivialized by both Jammeh and the other political parties that it is common place to speak of the UDP in the same breath as other lesser opposition parties. Numerically, UDP is superior to all of the opposition yet they are all usually spoken of as equals. This, however,  is politics and not some family naming ceremony were the crazy uncle who seem to always speak in tongues is treated as a normal family member elevated to the position of respectability simply because he's family. Politics is not a family affair. Politics is numbers, and that's what matters ultimately.  It is through numbers that one derive he or her power and mandate.  If I sound Machiavellian it is because politics is Machiavellian by definition,

UDP's influence, measured in terms of its ability to control the direction and content of the political conversation, is not commensurate with its numbers.  If UDP were a Senegalese party or a party in any other normal African country, it would have automatically assumed the mantle of leader of the opposition in any run-off elections with the incumbent President.  UDP is not Senegalese and Gambia is not a normal country, and thus we find ourselves in a political merry-go-round that has become a fixture in the presidential election cycle.  And so, every election cycle, we resume the same political ritual of assembling the political parties to force them to unite, and each time it ends up in miserable failure.   It has become a kabuki theatre that threatens to carve a deep and permanent cleavage between the opposition parties.  Some have already agreed that the permanent cleavage has already occurred and it it time that all parties involved come to the realization and accept it as the new norm.

It is hard to imagine PDOIS ceding any leadership role, ever, to the UDP and vise versa.   Conversely, NRP may cede leadership again but not until the present leader, assuming he will continue to lead the party, extracts concessions that will make the God Father blush.  The PPP, on the other hand, can play a meaningful and influential role only if a comprehensive rehabilitation and revitalization of the party takes place. There is no reason why it cannot come roaring back.  These are political facts that may be inconvenient to ponder over, and thus are often ignored or suppressed (consciously or subconsciously), not only by political leaders but by their most vocal supporters.   They are all in denial and, and therefore, will excoriate anyone who dares remind them of the inconvenient truths.  Even if for some miraculous intervention there is a unified opposition leader with all of the opposition parties on board, the candidate will be undermined by one or more within the coalition.  This is the nature of the beast, the current Gambian politics which has undergone significant transformation under Jammeh, however temporary the transformation might turn out to be.

It is time to stop papering over these deep and intractable differences in political ideology and governing concepts, and accept them as given.  I realize that politicians, being the political animals ( normal and not pejorative usage ) they are, may not want to express these differences in such stark and unequivocal terms but it is imperative that the new norm is integrated into their political calculus which will lead inevitably to handling future coalition talks differently.  The current method has not worked in the past, and there is no reason to believe that it will work next time around.  Political ideology, governance concepts and shared values do matter.  Any future opposition alliances will necessarily be built around these and similar factors that are as important as the political personalities involved.