By Kebba Jeffang
The aspiring presidential candidates on Wednesday, 5 October, 2016 agreed to present their various coalition options to the Gambia Oppositions for Electoral Reform (GOFER) on Friday, 7 October, in a bid to reach a consensus on the best method for the selection of one flag bearer for a united opposition to challenge the incumbent, President Yahya Jammeh, in the 1 December Presidential election.
What is agreed, in essence, is for each of the presidential candidates to put in black and white (written form) their coalition options for formal presentation before the larger opposition instrument called GOFER for consensus.
The presidential candidates who were present at yesterday’s coalition talks at the Kairaba Beach Hotel are Dr. Lamin Bolongding Bojang of National Convention Party (NCP), Dr. Isatou Touray, the independent presidential aspirant, and Halifa Sallah of the People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS). Two other presidential candidates namely Adama Barrow of the United Democratic Party (UDP) and Hon. Hamat Bah of the National Reconciliation Party (NRP) were not present at the talks but were represented by Alagie Darboe, the deputy admin secretary, and Musa Sonko, deputy party leader. The presidential candidate of the Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC), Mamma Kandeh, was neither present nor represented.
As has been the practice since the coalition talks began three weeks ago, yesterday’s conference of presidential candidates, like the previous two successive sessions, was held behind closed doors and restricted to only the aspiring candidates and the observers representing the opposition parties and independent candidate.
Speaking to the waiting journalists outside of the conference room, Mr. Halifa Sallah, the PDOIS Presidential Candidate, said the objective of the meeting was to review all the coalition options which, according to him, was done despite the absence of some key presidential candidates. He said they have agreed now to convene a meeting of the Gambia Opposition for Electoral Reform (GOFER) and each of the Presidential candidates will present a coalition option for that gathering so that they can build a consensus.
When asked to elaborate on the coalition options presented by the candidates, he responded “I can speak for my party (PDOIS) on those options. We have told them that you need over 443, 200 votes to be seen as the candidate who can win an election. We have not seen any particular political party who can stand and say we have empirical evidence that we get this. So our option is to get 5000 and put them together and let’s have a primary so that they select and whoever wins we support the person. But since time has been mentioned all the time, under the Constitution, if you are to be nominated, you must have 200 registered voters in each of the regions, which is another option, because we are concerned with building a wave. The Presidential candidates would all have travel with a caravan to all parts of the country which will build a wave and serve as a focal point. Our plan B is to have each party to be represented by 200 people in each region and hold regional conventions to decide who is to lead by voting,” he said.
Sallah said this process will bring all the presidential candidates, including the Independent, together and mobilise many people to support it.
On how this convention would proceed, he said each of the presidential candidates will make a presentation to convince the voters why one believes he/she could mobilize the vast majority of people to effect the change that is needed because that is what all the Gambians are looking for. He said these 200 supporters of each of the candidates will proceed to vote. He said PDOIS is ready to support whosoever is elected in this process as the Presidential Candidate of the united opposition. He added that these regional conventions could be done in a period of seven days. “This is not just about simply mobilising the political leaders but the mass Gambian people as a whole,” added Sallah.
He concluded “So we have all agreed now concretely and in a written form and it will be presented at a meeting of GOFER. What we have agreed here is for each individual party to go back and formulate their coalition option concretely before GOFER which is likely to be on Friday (tomorrow). It could be made public if the arrangement is being made on Friday at the same place, but I could not confirm that at the moment.”
Dr. Isatou Touray, the Independent Presidential Candidate said she is very hopeful of a consensus.
“Let’s just give a chance for democracy to thrive and I think these dialogues going on are opportunities for people to reflect because it is about choosing a leader and you want to choose the best. And choosing the best requires people to reflect very well. Let them all present what they have so that people have the option of reflecting on the presentation and know what is in the best interest of the nation,” she told the press after the talks.
The aspiring independent presidential candidate noted that each of the presidential candidates is part of the whole and that she thinks it is not a bad idea and Friday could be a decisive day. She said time is considered and it is their guiding principle in the process.
Samba Baldeh of the GDC who was there as an observer told the press that “the GDC is not represented in the talks because they were told that it is meant for the leaders to make decisions and not about reporting and waiting for the party’s response to whatever demand is made in the talks.”
He said since their presidential candidate is not in town they have decided not to send a representative because it has no use. “They felt that if they make a decision the party leader may not accept it. They want the political parties’ candidates to represent themselves. We are expecting him back at any time,” he said.
The observers present were Amie Sillah and Suwaibou Touray from PDOIS, Awa Bah and Pa Touray Bajinka from NRP, Alhaji Saja Jarju and Kebba Singhateh from GPDP, Musa Jeng from PPP, Samba Baldeh and Modou Bah from GDC and Amie Bojang and Ramzia Diab for the Independent Candidate.