By Kebba Jeffang
In responding to the calls made by some young people which was published in Tuesday’s Foroyaa publication for the opposition to form an alliance to remove the ruling APRC in the December 1 presidential poll, Mr. Halifa Sallah, the Presidential candidate of the opposition People’s Democratic Organisation Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), said the solution is for each of the opposition parties to identify its presidential candidate and then for them to jointly conduct a nationwide primary for people to select the best person who should be the coalition flag bearer.
Sallah said this in an exclusive interview with this reporter at the PDOIS office in Churchill Town on Tuesday, August 09, 2016.
He recalled that the principle of absolute majority was established in the Constitution of the second republic but this had been amended by the National Assembly. He said the removal of this provision in the Constitution means that the incumbent can win the election by a simple majority, which means there will be no need for a second round even if he fails to collect 50% of the total votes cast. He said this would have allowed the opposition parties to stand individually and form a coalition in the second round where the leader will disregard party affiliation for a national responsibility.
“However, where this is no longer the case, this is why we have emphasised as a party, as a matter of tactic, that we should implement the principle even though it has been removed from the Constitution. And that principle is to have a second round of voting. We are saying since the opposition would be the force that will be likely divided because we cannot have two ruling parties at the same time, let them (the opposition parties) be prepared to nominate their candidates, campaign, get 5000 people to nominate them, we put those people in an electoral list and then put the photographs of the candidates on it and then give envelopes to the people who are part of the electoral list, give them the pictures of the candidates for them to tear the picture of the candidate of their choice which they will put in the envelopes given to them. The candidates will have their agents by district who will travel together and get the nomination of those people which is counted nationally and whoever is selected becomes the Presidential candidate as this person would have been under normal circumstances, if we had had the second round, the candidate who other people can galvanise around emerge as the flag bearer. This is our proposal and we have sent it to all the political parties 2 months back in order to get their response. We are not saying that they should accept it but that they can even bring counter proposals. We haven’t got any response from the other opposition parties yet and have also not received any proposal from them yet,” said Sallah.
The PDOIS Presidential Candidate said they had scaled down their open political activities because of the incidents involving Lawyer Ousainou Darboe, the party leader of the UDP, and his party militants. He said he is still convinced that the members of the UDP should be released. He said, however, that since the UDP has now taken a stance that they will continue with their political activities, PDOIS will again send the proposal to all the parties for their reactions. He expressed confidence that a coalition can make a change in the 2016 presidential election if the primaries could take place in September followed by an effective series of campaign activities in the months of October and November.
Sallah said the reason why the PDOIS made this proposal is that they are not sure who the people want and that with this primary it becomes a campaign in the making because you are exposing the candidate. He said “in the process of involving all the opposition parties, you are building a way for change.”
He expressed optimism that this is a solid tactic because it involves every Gambian, adding that even independent candidates who wish to take part in the process can be involved as this is not restricted to only political parties.
“We have emphasized that even if our colleagues, for example agreed to select PDOIS to lead, it must stand as an independent party, we are ready to do that. We have also emphasized that even if we are selected as the Presidential candidate and win an election in a cabinet of 21, we will appoint only seven ministers and the rest have to be done by the parties. And in terms of our own pledges, we assured that we will not remove any of those ministers selected by the others if they have done anything wrong. The only thing that will be done by the President is to be announcing the appointments. This is just to say that the government is a coalition and not a PDOIS government. This is also to say that if I were to be elected as President, those ministers will not be removed by me, again unless you have a vote of censure under section 75 of the Constitution which gives the power to the National Assembly members to remove ministers for incompetence or in violation of the Constitution. So we do not want to dominate the transitional government but to see that anybody elected must be a transitional figure and that was why I said if elected, I will just spend one term. This is what we are offering and others may offer even better conditions. So, therefore, there is a room for debate,” said Sallah
The PDOIS flag bearer said the Gambia is a country that had never witness changed through the ballot box and since 1994 his party has been working for unity. He said the first objective of PDOIS is to register tremendous change since then.
He recalled that the current government had banned all the political parties in the country until 1996 when they were told to register again which was not an automatic coming back. He said their dilemma was they refused to be banned in 1994 and he and Sidia Jatta were arrested and taken to court for violating the Political Activities (Suspension) Decree. He said they had since tried to ensure that the system is returned to democratic rule. He said in 2001, PDOIS recommended to the existing parties then that they should come up with an independent candidate with a transition of 2 years and they could start fresh campaign for democratic change but was also ignored.
He said before the 2006 presidential election, “I was made a Coordinator of the National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD) and we proposed that let us have one term President under an umbrella party that no single party will be able to claim. And that person will run a coalition government and after that we will not support anybody in the next coming election so that we can have a genuine multi-party system because we never had that since Gambia became independent. So we proposed that and it was accepted initially and we went very far and that also collapsed. In 2011, that was the same agenda we were driving at, for us to forget about the individual party as we need a coalition. In 2016, we are still offering the same thing and I am convinced that through that agenda you can bring everybody onboard. But if you just concentrate on a particular party and a party agenda, you cannot bring everybody on board.”
The former minority leader of the National Assembly admits that it would not be easy to effect change individually, considering the record of the past elections. He said out of their evaluation of 2011 election, they realized that the incumbent came out with 72% of the total votes cast. He said the UDP led coalition got 17% of the vote while the independence scored just 11%. He said the total percentage against the incumbent is 28% which is a big margin.
“So we are convinced that the candidate that we need must be one who will earn the respect of the vast majority of the 72% that had voted for the incumbent, the vast majority who have voted for UDP led coalition and the independent coalition. That’s the person we are looking for and we are not 100% convinced who that person is (and we are not saying we are the person) and then we believe that if we adopt the primary tactic we will be able to discover that person very quickly by allowing everybody to participate including the independent candidates.
Sallah stressed that what they must bear in mind and what many people failed to realise is that even Jammeh himself is waiting for a candidate that the opposition is going to bring before him. “And you, I and everybody should bear in mind that, that candidate must be someone that Jammeh respects. It must be a personality that Jammeh himself will know that the opposition has actually selected a candidate and who, no matter what, he has to and will respect. It must also be a candidate that the international community will say “Yes, Gambia has an alternative”, because they must ask who the alternative is. Everybody is looking for an alternative. So, to us, the best way is by conducting primary”.
When asked about the term to be served as coalition government if they happen to win the election, Sallah said if it is the PDOIS candidate who is selected the person will serve for only five years. He said he has already pledged that if he is elected, he will serve only one term of five years. He said he also pledged that he will put the term limit of four years in the Constitution of the Republic, citing the United States and Nigeria as examples despite their size.
“We have no hindrance anywhere and we are ready to consider what they have. Let them produce what they have so that we put it before the people because the people are going to be the voters. This will allow people to make comparisons of the agendas and know what they should support. We are willing to listen and are open because we just want suggestions. We should not be closed minded,” Sallah concluded.