Below is the exclusive interview this paper had with HALIFA SALLAH – the PDOIS’ Presidential Candidate- on the current political situation in the country and the way forward:
Foroyaa: What is your reaction to the remarks of the President on the current political situation?
Halifa: A lengthy polemics with the APRC Presidential candidate will feature in our own party Magazine “GONGA (TRUTH)” to be published by the end of the month.
Foroyaa: Our readers cannot wait for that. Could you make some remarks on the statements made by the President during the tour?
Halifa: First and foremost, I must react to all the inflammatory remarks I have heard since 14th April by asserting that peace and war are not bred through lectures but are nurtured through actions.
A head of state should not make inflammatory remarks during Presidential tours. In my view, the events of 14th and 16th April should not warrant the issuing of any threats from the authorities of the state.
In short, the President was not even in the country on 14th or 16th April 2016. The arrestees bore no arms on 14th April. This was why it took minutes to disperse and arrest them. The arrestees of 16th April held each other’s arms and had the national flag in their hands before being dispersed and arrested.
Only a force with combat readiness or one that had mobilised the largest number of citizens could be a threat to the security of the state.
Instead of issuing threats, what the situation needs is sober thinking on all sides in order to draw valuable lessons aimed at remedying the ills and averting any reoccurrence. The threat of sending opponents nine feet deep into the ground, even if intended for those accused of nurturing the aim to overthrow a government, is not appropriate in the current context of the 14th and 16th April incidents.
The UDP leadership, traumatised by the news of death which they believed to be true, took to the street as a show of concern.
It is reasonable and justifiable to assert that where conscience dictates action criminality should not be alleged.
Foroyaa: What do you mean when you say lectures do not breed war and peace?
Halifa: Many Gambians called for people to rise up in April and May and many were counselling peace. My position is that people have their aims and designs, but the material conditions will always dictate what course of action would prevail at any given moment.
In short, war has two components, psychological warfare and active combat.
Psychological warfare which is not linked to combat readiness is scarecrow tactics. Leaders who are driven to the extremities of vengeance against opponents in reaction to scarecrow tactics cannot be seen to be equal to the task of leadership.
Reaction should always be proportionate to real and visible threat. Reaction to imagined threat is unsettling in effect.
On the other hand, Gambians abroad who engage in war mongering without combat preparedness only succeed in transforming those under their command into fodders for rifles, bayonets, tear gas and truncheons. They should know that it is not a sign of bravery to take warlike postures when they are not armed and psychologically prepared for war.
Foroyaa: What is the way forward?
Halifa Sallah: The heavy presence of security forces and barricades as hundreds of family members, friends and party supporters wait near court houses to see loved ones hinders traffic and affects every aspect of life. All is not well. All hands should be on deck to facilitate the discharge and release of all those arrestees associated with the two incidents followed by diligent investigation into allegations of disappearance or torture. This is the first point.
Secondly, I would wish to share our contribution to the debate on the way forward for change in 2016.
There are two major powers in the country. There is the power of the people and the power of the state.
Political contest is a contest for state power.
There are five types of political contests which could make state power to change hands.
Civilians could take up arms and form a liberation or rebel army to overthrow a government. This would require millions of dollars to buy arms and ammunition, military attire and food ration to fight a protracted war. A recent experience of an armed intervention to take over power by civilians with military training is 30th December 2014. Is this the way forward supported by the vast majority of Gambians? If your answer is in the negative, then you should consider the next option.
Secondly, mutiny could occur within the ranks of the security forces which could result in a coup d’état. Do the vast majority of people prefer to fold their hands and pray for the day when a coup maker would bring about change for them? If your answer is in the negative, then consider the next option?
Thirdly, assassins could utilise means to kill state authorities and thus bring about a change of leadership. Would you be willing to be a suicide bomber or sharp shooter who would strive to bring about change by clandestinely laying in wait to assassinate authorities and leave subsequent developments to chance? If your answer is in the negative consider the next option?
Fourthly, the people in a country may take over the streets in their hundreds of thousands making it unwise to use force to disperse them as they demand for a change of Government. Security forces often join them and allow governments to fall. Is it evident that the vast majority of Gambians, regardless of party affiliation, gender, ethno-linguistic origin or religion, are in support of and fully ready to effect such a method of change? If your answer is in the negative, then consider the next option.
Finally, a change of state power could take place through electoral contest between political parties. If this is your option, one must consider the odds and challenges and how to address them.
The key challenge is that many Gambians admit that the ground is not level for free and fair electoral contest.
How is this to be addressed? Many people in the country are in support of a coalition to increase the strength of the opposition to win elections.
How this coalition is to be formed becomes the next challenge.
Electoral strength is determined by the mass support given to a party or person in elections.
In South Africa, ANC is supported by the largest number of South Africans because of its history as a liberation movement. Hence anybody selected to stand under it as a Presidential Candidate is likely to win. Could the same thing be said for the Gambian opposition? PDOIS’ answer is in the negative. One has no evidence to show that if anyone stands for any given opposition party, he or she would win because of the party.
The evidence indicates that the largest opposition party which contested the last Presidential election in 2011 had 17 percent of the votes while the candidate of the ruling party had 72 percent. This gap needs to be bridged before the 2016 Presidential elections.
PDOIS is of the view that in order for that gap to be filled, the country must identify a presidential candidate who would be embraced by people who voted for or against the ruling party in 2011 and those who did not vote at all.
To make that doubly sure, PDOIS proposes for each party to select its Presidential Candidate as soon as practicable. The candidates, including independent aspirants, should begin their campaign and engage in debates right away so that the voters would begin to make up their minds on the quality of leadership they intend to give support. Each party should then indicate how it wants the flag bearer to be selected. This should also be debated in the public space.
PDOIS’ POSITION ON COALITION BUILDING
PDOIS has already selected its Presidential candidate. If all the other candidates are known by now people would be debating on their merits and shortcomings to shape public opinion.
The PDOIS Presidential candidate has also proposed that since each presidential candidate is to be nominated by 5000 people, the nominators should be transformed into an electoral list to enable them to vote at a primary to select one Presidential candidate for the opposition.
No party has yet indicated how a flag-bearer is to be selected for discussion to commence to reach a consensus. It is urgent for all parties to be urged to do so if they are indeed interested in a coalition. PDOIS has already forwarded its proposal to GOFER, the group established by the opposition, which is also copied to all member parties requesting for the convening of a meeting when all parties send their own proposals. We are yet to receive any proposal from any other party.
OFFER OF A PRESIDENCY WITH A PDOIS MINORITY IN CABINET AND NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
The PDOIS presidential candidate has offered to be a head of state who would appoint only 7 Ministers in a cabinet of 21 Ministers, that is, one third of the members of cabinet and one quarter plus 1seat in the National Assembly. Hence any partner that considers itself to have more support of voters in the past elections could request for more ministerial posts and more seats in the National Assembly and be in the majority in both chambers.
Lastly, the PDOIS candidate has offered to serve only one term and not take sides in the subsequent presidential and National Assembly electoral contests.