By Kebba Jeffang
The press conference scheduled yesterday, Tuesday, 11 October, by the Gambia Opposition for Electoral Reform (GOFER), to unveil the unanimously agreed method of selecting one presidential candidate for the united opposition to contest with the incumbent in the 1 December 2016 poll, was deferred as the representative of one of the concerned parties, United Democratic Party (UDP), appealed for more time to consult with his party executive.
It was finally agreed by all the represented parties that the press conference be rescheduled to Friday, 14 October 2016 at 4pm at the Kairaba Beach Hotel.
The opposition political parties represented at the press conference were, in alphabetical order, the Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC), Gambia Party for Democracy and Progress (GPDP), National Convention Party (NCP), National Reconciliation Party (NRP), People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and United Democratic Party (UDP). The Independent presidential aspirant, Dr. Isatou Touray, or her representatives, and the Gambia Moral Congress (GMC) were not in attendance.
The meeting was chaired by Fatoumatta Jallow Tambajang, who was asked by Alh. Dembo Bojang, UDP National Chairman, who was also present, and supported by the rest to chair the session.
In her introductory remarks, Madam Jallow Tambajang, after welcoming all the parties and media representatives present, said the event is organised immediately after the GOFER talks on the method of selecting a candidate. She said the agenda is to inform the public, through the press, the outcome of the talks and how to conduct the process. She, however, invited the party leaders and representatives to take the floor on any option or emerging issue before the commencement of the press conference.
At this juncture, Alagie Darboe, the deputy senior administrative secretary of UDP, who represented the party stood up and said: “It is unfortunate that I could not report to my party due to its engagement on a nation-wide tour and the welcoming of the party which was done yesterday (Monday). We could not have any contact to discuss on what had emanated from the meeting and based on that I was duty bound to make the representation of the party on the coalition building. I am also duty bound to report to them to sound their minds. It’s unfortunate that this could not happen and I really felt it very badly that it is very improper on my side to take a move without putting this thing before them. That’s why I am trying to propose for the meeting to be adjourned so that we or may be other parties who may not have that privilege, as well, could have that room to have that discussion with their parties which is very important. And I want to apologies to everybody for it. Actually it is not my intention but it is something that I could not do.”
Maa Janko Samusa, representing the NCP, seconded Darboe’s proposal on the basis that he got information from the GMC representative who could not make it to the meeting due to engagements in the provinces. He said if that is the case the documents that are to be signed have to be unanimous. He said the adjournment will also enable the other parties to go through the draft document and also the press release so that when they come back again they will be able to conclude the issues.
Kebba Singhateh, who was representing GPDP, reacted that the parties seeking for an adjournment should be asked whether it will be possible for them to liaise with whoever they are supposed to meet and tell the body when they can reconvene again.
Omar Jallow, alias OJ, the leader of PPP, said they have all agreed two days ago (Sunday) about three things which they should put on paper and then call the press to inform them about the decisions they have taken unanimously at the said meeting.
“For me when this negotiation started I went to my party and they gave me the mandate and the powers to speak on their behalf. I think there is no party here which is owned by an individual. Parties should have structures and those structures should be functioning effectively and they should be accorded with confidence and respect that they deserve,” said OJ.
OJ said they have their integrities at stake as the whole world was informed about the development and the expectation is very high.
Halifa Sallah, the Presidential Candidate of PDOIS, said “we should have had second thought. We were pressed for time and there was diligence in acting with speed to come to conclusion and I believe at the material time we are making the decision we even thought of just sitting down and prepare a draft to review it and then sign it. In terms of coherence in the presentation, we decided that we will adjourn it to this day.”
He said notwithstanding, they have reached agreement in principle and the reason why they came together was to build consensus which makes them to take into consideration each other’s challenges. He added that from what he heard, it is not about reneging from the position that rather it is more about informing others who should know because looking at the document before him there will be two signatories from each party, including those who are selected to be presidential candidates. He said in essence, there is still a form of consultation.
“I understand what my brother has said. We informed the world because we left here fully convinced that we have made a conclusive decision but we are realising that we are dealing with operational issue rather than the principle of the agreement itself. I have not heard anybody reneging from that principle or the principles we have put in the form of a resolution and adopted. We cannot renege from that particular position. It is more of the procedure now we are to adopt and conclude and that is signing and giving it to the whole world,” said Sallah.
“Since there is a request for some form of consultation between the representatives and the larger body, I would try to prevail on all of us who have been worried about our integrity because we did agree to write to the press and invite them and it has not shown as element of organization to be able to come to this level and then say well we are not ready. But we hope those covering at this gathering would know that to err is human and we do not claim to be prophets and there is goodwill and to pursue goodwill, it will be more important than to pursue the decision we made and to fear that we lose our integrity. I think it is better to invest in that goodwill that has bound our activity up till now and that has definitely cemented some element of confidence amongst us and we should at least maintain our goodwill and give them an opportunity to give us a realistic time so that we could come back and do what we have proposed to do,” he concluded.
Dr. Lamin Bolonding Bojang, Presidential Candidate of NCP, Musa Sonko, deputy party leader of NRP, and James Gomez of PPP, also spoke.
The Chair of the meeting Madam Tambajang Jallow after a unanimous agreement on the adjournment proposal on the date and time said the delay is regretted but added that such could happen in any democratic process because it is a procedure. She therefore announced that they will meet on Friday at 4pm to continue the process.