The Gambia is heading to polls in December with hoping to usher in a new president. President Yahya Jammeh has won four elections since he came to power in 1994 with the opposition mainly divided amid failed coalition talks.
In 2006, opposition groups came close to securing a party-led coalition to end President Yahya Jammeh’s rule but disagreements over leadership and party size shattered months of talks at the final months leading to the polls.
Gambian opposition parties years later called for a non-partisan independent candidate to lead a winning coalition and a transitional government, which will re-organize elections.
The Gambia has become one of Africa’s most isolated nations with President Yahya Jammeh taking even worse radical approaches to addressing the country’s international relations. His regime has become more repressive, especially towards opposition voices and many more Gambians have been forced into exile. The country’s economic has taken a deep dive to the bottom of the sea and struggling to reemerge, pinned by domestics debts equal to its GDP.
The opposition has converged again but struggling not just to merge the different unity talks but agree on a coalition. It is obvious that party-led coalition will not be possible but talks to even select an independent candidate have become a difficult one.
As in before, talks of being the largest opposition group has emerged.
A new opposition party to President Yahya Jammeh’s rule has emerged. Its leaders a charismatic and vibrant former lawmaker for Jammeh’s ruling APRC party. Mama Kandeh was a quite parliamentarian. Most have never heard of his name until his emergence in the country’s presidential race with an uncontrollable storm of fame.
He surprised many with the large crowds he was able to pull compared to many others parties who have been in existence for decades.
The GDC pulled out of youth-led coalition talks last month citing discrepancies with clauses that had to do with “largest opposition party” and coalition financing.
GDC supporters say they are the largest opposition party now – meaning they are Jammeh’s main opposition challenger in the December polls.
Since 1996, the United Democratic Party has been The Gambia’s main opposition party. It came second in all presidential polls and has the largest number of opposition lawmakers in parliament until it began boycotting parliamentary polls.
In 1996, the percentage of votes between the UDP and the party that came third was a little more than 30 percent. Even with a deeply divided opposition and a coalition for a third party (NADD) in 2006, the percentage of votes between the UDP and NADD was at 20.71 percent.
Though the gap kept on closing and low voter turnout increased, UDP had about 7% more votes than United Front coalition.
GDC leader Mama Kandeh is pulling a lot of support from dissatisfied former members of the ruling APRC party including prominent former parliamentarian and mobilizer Tina Faal. Kandeh was among dozens of supporters and key members of the party who were dismissed in 2012.
The UDP has a very loyal membership. Though its party leader Ousainou Darboe has been jailed, and a new presidential hopeful selected, electorates in The Gambia are not known to vote on issues but rather for the party in which their loyalty lies.
There is no denial that the GDC may be able to get most of the UDP votes if the UDP has boycotted polls, but there is also no denial that GDC which relies on a disgruntled constituency of political parties, may get the support of some disgruntled members of other opposition groups including the UDP.
This, however, does not make it The Gambia’s main opposition party. Far from it.
The UDP is on a caravan tour. It has pulled a crowd as big and it does when Ousainou Darboe was the one rising from the sunroof of the car. In a show of support for its new presidential hopeful Adama Barrow, UDP members turned out in their numbers to show the party is not all about Darboe as its critics put it.
Though it is said that Mr. Barrow, a businessman and realtor is not as charming or charismatic as Kandeh, in the words of critics: “he does not look presidential,” the crowd he has pulled has proven that party loyalty supersedes many other factors in Gambia’s politics.
The UDP not by far remains the country’s largest opposition party but come what may, its candidate just like any other, will not be able to win a presidential election without the backing of all opposition parties.
Mama Kandeh stands a chance to become the country’s main opposition party but it will not be an easy task to win. Surpassing UDP in that end is like trying to win Jammeh in the polls without a coalition. It is doable but needs strategizing and creating strong alliances. That may not be this year like there won’t be a new government without strategic thinking, compromise and a strong alliance.
But the GDC should be proud to say it is the second largest opposition party in The Gambia within months of its emergence. It is impressive although it continues to be hindered by questions of the decisions made by its party leader whiles a parliamentarian for the ruling party.