Electoral workers register ballot boxes on November 23, 2011 after receiving them in the town / Telegraph

Opposition mulls primary to select a single candidate to challenge President Jammeh

Opposition leaders in The Gambia are calling for a primary to select a presidential candidate under a coalition in hopes to unseat President Yahya Jammeh in the December polls. Leaders of the PPP, NCP, GDPD and PDOIS are demanding equal number of representatives to be sent to a convention of opposition parties for a candidate to be nominated.

For many, this has dampened the hopes for a coalition as talks in 2006 and 2011 failed and most recent talks have stalled. The leader of the largest opposition party the UDP was jailed with at least 50 others last month and activists criticized political leaders for their inaction and attempting to use a political dialogue committee at a time they had leverage.

Pata Saidykhan is a political activist and underscored the urgency for a coalition to contest the elections but affirmed that forming a one has become a marriage of convenience.

“If these party leaders are unable to come together at a time that one of their own was murdered and several others persecuted, I’m giving up on a possibility to coalesce,” he said.

Analysts say sending equal number of representatives to a congress is disproportionate as party sizes are not equal. In many countries, smaller parties joined the largest opposition party to unseat the incumbent. But in The Gambia opposition parties seek to have a transitional government for about three months, which will pave the way to an election for a new government where individual parties can contest on their own.

PPP leader Omar Jallow disagreed with analysts saying all parties are equals regardless of their membership.

Aside from the UDP, none of the parties pose a formidable challenge to the ruling APRC party. Since 1996 the PDOIS, NCP, NRP, NADD and PPP has not won even 8% of the votes. Aside of the United Front which won about 12% of the votes in 2011, only the UDP won up to 36% of votes.

Voter turnout during polls continue to decline but statistics from the country’s electoral commission show that even if all the opposition parties unite to form a coalition without the UDP, they are unlikely to secure 15% of the votes.

The Gambia does not have second round of voting, and even so, 15% is not enough to unseat President Yahya Jammeh, who enjoys an overwhelming support from a parliament that last summer passed new electoral regulations further straining free and fair elections in the country.

In April, at least one opposition leading figure, Solo Sandeng died in custody after he led a protest demanding electoral reforms. Many have said going to elections under the new guidelines will only legitimize President Yahya Jammeh’s rule.

Opposition leaders say they are committed to a coalition but Henry Gomez of the GPDP told local newspaper FOROYAA that he does not believe that going to the polls will unseat Jammeh.

In 2011, opposition parties formed the group of six after losing to Mr Jammeh in the presidential run. They boycotted parliamentary polls, no action followed and coalition talks stalled. ECOWAS ruled that the 2011 polls were not free and fair citing “an unacceptable level of control of the electronic media by the party in power… and an opposition and electorate cowed by repression and intimidation”. A new committee led by former Health Minister and UNDP officer Fatoumata Tambajang is helping in negotiations between opposition parties to unite.

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