Gambia’s dominant political party, the UDP is in limbo following party primaries that have left supports deeply split over the outcome, threatening the political powerhouse’s chance of winning critical local government seats.
A fraction of the party is threatening to create a splinter group that may run or support independent candidates in the country’s April and May local government polls.
The polls will be a test for the party’s popularity, especially in the Greater Banjul and Kombo Metropolitan Areas just a year after it won an absolute majority in the last year’s parliamentary elections.
Supporters of a longtime UDP member, Mustapha Touray have reportedly pledged to vote for a rival opposition candidate, Pa Njie Girigara in the Kanifing Municipality, and have held talks with his campaign if Touray isn’t made UDP’s candidate.
Touray lost in the party primaries to a privileged political novice, Talib Bensouda, whose mother Amie Bensouda is the renowned attorney probing financial mismanagement of ex-President Yahya Jammeh and in charge of brokering the West African nation’s oil licenses.
Touray’s backers have filed a petition to have Bensouda’s candidacy rescinded, claiming they were not credible. According to the local newspaper, The Standard, they are not satisfied with the whole process of the primaries and are therefore calling for a re-run of the primaries that will be credible.
Although Touray was backed by a popular local politician, Musa Jammeh, Talib Bensouda was highly favored to win. Supporters of the Touray-Jammeh pact Bensouda was long chosen and that the primaries were just a formality and lacked integrity.
“Our camp has been informed even prior to the election day that Talib Bensouda is already the chosen candidate but our camp did not believe in boycotting elections, so we went ahead to contest to ascertain the fairness of the elections, which we found to be neither free nor fair,” according to the petition.
“Selected delegates to the primaries were denied voting, only for new names to be put on the list of delegates. At Serekunda Central it was found that 4 delegates came from the same family. The set rules were not even followed in the case of Bakau.”
In Brikama, the deep division was cemented after a group supporting Ebrima Sanneh, a longtime backer of the UDP party and a strongman in the city was defeated in the so-called primaries by Sheriff Sonko.
Sanneh is now being encouraged to run as an independent candidate. His challenging of the UDP contender in the city could devastate their chance to either opposition forces or an independent candidate.
Sanneh’s campaign team accused party electoral officers of excessive interference and handpicking delegates to have Sanneh denied a shot at the Chairmanship of the Brikama Area Council.
Angry protesters burnt UDP t-shirts and threatened to vote for UDP’s main rivals for the mayorship and councilors, saying most candidates put up by the UDP were incompetent.
A petition has been sent to the UDP party head office in the capital, Banjul and Sanneh’s campaign team is awaiting their response. The party has remained mute over allegations of conducting fraudlent primaries.