Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Gambia's National Assembly must reject Jammeh's election "reform" proposals

Speaker of the National Assembly Bojang 
Proposals to "reform" Gambia's electoral laws that are already considered skewed in favor of the ruling APRC party are before the National Assembly for debate and approval.

The proposals call for a massive increase in the "deposits" a candidate for public office would have to pay to qualify to be on the ballot, once other eligibility requirements such as age and residency among others have been fulfilled.

If the Gambian dictator has his way, as he normally does with is now referred to as the "rubber stamp" National Assembly, the new rates will jump from D 10,000 to D 1,000,000.  In US dollar terms the rates will increase from $ 222  to $ 22,000 representing a 10,000% increase in a country where the average citizen has now been reduced to surviving on $ 1.25 a day and where, according to United Nations figures 33% of Gambians cannot afford three square meals a day.

There are other equally obnoxious components to these so-called reforms, designed, not to turn the country into a one-party state as claimed in some quarters, because for all intent and purposes, The Gambia already is, since 48 of the 53-seat National Assembly is controlled by the ruling APRC. Other components include increases in "deposits" for candidates for the National Assembly from D 5,000 ($ 110) to D 100,000 ( $ 2,220) representing a 950% increase, and increases for those aspiring to be Mayors.

Before we discuss Jammeh's intent for introducing these electoral reforms, let us look at the sweeteners in the reform package designed to lure the unsuspecting and (some would say) gullible opposition leaders into thinking that it is a genuinely thought through set of proposals to address the opposition's concerns which are growing louder.  Jammeh is also aware of the increasing international pressure that seems to be mounting by the week, from the UN Human Rights Council's Rapporteur Report to the European Union's 17 - points demands.

The IMF has joined the fray by threatening to recommend further painful measures before the "bottom drops out" of an economy in crisis due to an undisciplined macro-economic management team, inappropriately led by Yaya Jammeh, and fueled by an insatiable thirst for domestic spending, using local commercial banks as drinking troughs.  The Fund has informed us that the National Assembly leaders have been informed of the dire situation the country is in, and it is expected that they will step up to the plate on the economic front as well as the political issues.  

The "reform" measures include, among other sweeteners, in situ counting of votes and the transfer of the responsibility of of the issuance of permits for political rallies from the Inspector General of Police to the so-called Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).  These specific proposals are being dangled before the opposition because Jammeh believes they will take the bail because they have been clamoring for the former and complaining about the latter because the IGP has always been, until recently, refusing them permits.  To discuss the merits or lack thereof is a political blunder befitting a rookie politician.  The proposals are a distraction which must be seen and treated as such. Any meaningful electoral reform cannot be achieved in a piecemeal fashion and without a common position by a unified opposition.

The National Assembly unpopularity is of it's own making.  Members have allowed to be corrupted by Yaya Jammeh by regularly bribing them with car loans and 'fish money' here and there while slowing taking away the power vested in them by their respective constituents, effectively neutering them in the process.  Now, Gambia is the only country on earth where a member of parliament can be thrown out by the president even though he/she was elected by his/her constituency.  Sadly, ultimate power rests with Jammeh and not the people.  The fault lies squarely on the shoulders of individual members who were voted in by, and should represent the interests of, every single citizen in their respective constituency.

To vote for these measures is to vote for Jammeh's interest, who can afford the D 1,000,000 nonrefundable "deposit" and against the interest of members of the Assembly who cannot meet the current fees without outside help. So you can imagine of they are to pay D 100,000.  The entire package should be rejected outright by the Assembly which, we hope, will force Jammeh to abandon this very bad idea that is even against the political interest of members of his own party.