Monday, February 19, 2018

The rigged electoral calendar and President Barrow's 3-year term limit need to be revisited

This blog post is exactly a year old, but the issues raised therein are are pertinent today as they were then.  In fact, they have become more urgent as we approach the 3-year term of the Transition Government of Adama Barrow.  A reprint of the February 19th 2017 issue. 
President Barrow taking the Oath of Office 

Gambia's electoral calendar was tailor-made for Jammeh at his request, to benefit him and him alone.  The recently concluded presidential elections, the results of which were announced in favor of candidate Adama Barrow, took another seven weeks or 51 days before the incumbent vacated State House.  And he did so under threat of ECOMIG forces who were left with no option but to deliver their ultimatum: leave now or else we'll forcibly remove from from State House and into Mile II prisons.

The parliamentary elections are yet to be held. They are schedule to take place a clear four months (in April) after the presidential elections were conducted that transformed an opposition candidate as the new president who must inherit a parliamentary majority of the party that dominated Gambian politics for 22 years.  The new president is not only inheriting a hostile parliament but he is saddled with a budget that was prepared, approved and executed for, at least, the first two months of the new administration, by the outgoing regime.  It could be legitimately argued that budget execution is still in the hands of those whose allegiance is to the defeated Jammeh regime.  At least, until he departed on 21st January 2017, Jammeh has full control of and directing the levers of power, including the ability to execute the budget to his advantage.  A supplementary budget can be submitted to address some of these issues.

Realigning the electoral calendar to address the unacceptable gap between the presidential and parliamentary elections is an urgent issue that must be addressed.  The conduct of the presidential and parliamentary elections must be on the same day based on solid financial grounds.  Every effort must be made to utilize scare financial resources scrupulously.  Gambia couldn't afford it then and, certainly. it cannot afford it now, to conduct separate elections for the Presidency and  the National Assembly. Of course, adopting same day elections will also remove the undesirable gap between the expiration of the presidential term and that of the National Assembly to prevent a repeat of what Gambians were put through between December 1st of last year and January 21st of this year.

This brings us to the 3-year term of President Barrow as called for in the MOU of the Opposition Coalition 2016, which are a set of conditions agreed to by the seven opposition political parties plus one independent presidential candidate that made it possible for the candidature of Adama Barrow as the Coalition's presidential flag bearer.  We have no doubt that all aspects of the MOU - including every clause - that support the strategic objectives of the Coalition are negotiated in good faith and with every intention of being honored by all parties.

However, the extraordinary circumstances confronting the Coalition of Adama Barrow warrant a revisit of the terms of the MOU, particularly as it relates to presidential term.  As it stands presently, President Barrow is required to vacate the presidency in January 2020, two years before the end of term of the National Assembly that will be elected in April of this year.  If the 3-year term limit is maintained as well as the 5-year term for the National Assembly, it will create a nightmare scenario that will prove impossible to manage and will make programming of development funds almost impossible.  Government must bring its budgetary programming schedule/cycle in line with both domestic and external actors by ensuring that the lives of both the presidency and national assembly are in sync.

Of course, reducing the term of the incoming National Assembly members to correspond with that of President Barrow's is an option but it will not address the programming issue that a shortened term for the Coalition presidency will pose for Gambia's domestic partners.  It is, therefore, neater and easier to extend the term of President Adama Barrow by 2 years to 2022 instead of 2020.