BANJUL, Gambia (AA) - Gambian President Yahya Jammeh might not live to fulfill his wish to rule the West African nation for one billion years, “Allah willing,” but his fifth term mandate is almost as certain as his desire to get it, according to analysts.
“The prospect of the opposition uniting is very minimal, and the UDP [United Democratic Party] is in a crisis given the trial of its executive members. I think the trial of the UDP leaders will affect their participation in elections,” Ensa Njie, an independent political analyst, told Anadolu Agency.
Six months from now, on Dec. 1, Gambians will head to the polls to elect a new president, but Jammeh’s toughest rival since 1994, lawyer Ousainou Darboe (no relation to this writer), faces prospects of a jail term if convicted -- possibly to over a year -- while the other opposition parties are deeply divided.
Though Darboe of the opposition United Democratic Party is now 67, two years past the constitution’s maximum age for presidential candidates, his absence together with close to a dozen members of his party in the runup to elections, Njie said, will potentially hurt their chances.
Darboe is currently languishing in the remand wing of Gambia’s central prison, Mile 2, while he being tried on charges of unlawful assembly, rioting, and illegal procession, and the High Court last month denied him bail.
This political crisis the UDP found itself at the center of has left opposition parties with two known strong leadership choices -- Halifa Sallah of the Party for Democracy, Independence and Socialism, and Hamat Bah of the National Reconciliation Party.
Early this year Jammeh, who founded the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) party after leading a 1994 coup against the government of the country’s first President Kairaba Jawara, was nominated as his party’s candidate for the 2016 presidential elections.
While Bah leads Gambia’s number two opposition party and led it into the 2011 presidential elections, he fell out with the rest of the opposition parties after distancing himself from their decision to boycott the national assembly and local government elections on the basis that they “won’t be free and fair”.
“If we keep boycotting elections, Jammeh will be here forever,” he told journalists at the time, though opponents think he betrayed them, calling him an “enabler” of the president.
The Gambian opposition have a long history of failure each time they attempt to form a political alliance, and Njie said their history of division might get in the way of any alliance that could select Hamat or Halifa as party leader.
“It is possible for them to win if they come together, but I just can’t see it happening. As for the UDP, I think their focus will be on the [court] case involving their party leaders and not on forming a coalition. The UDP is in terminal decline,” Njie told Anadolu.
“I can’t see that unifying figure in the opposition camp who can bring all of them together to challenge the incumbent. I don’t even see a very strong candidate in the UDP as a replacement for lawyer Darboe”.
Added to the puzzle, perhaps, is the emergence of another political party less than a month ago by a former APRC party member, but Njie said the Gambia Democratic Congress’s Mamma Kandeh “cannot in my opinion be as strong as lawyer Darboe was”.
However, there is currently an inter-party opposition group with members from all parties and independent candidates working on uniting the parties ahead of polls and making demands for electoral reforms.
Their spokesperson, Musa Sonko, who is also an executive member in the NRP, told Anadolu Agency that the opposition might have differing ideologies but they have “come to understand that they need to unite to defeat President Jammeh”.
“The NRP formed a coalition with the PDOIS in 2011 and they are willing to do it again,” Sonko said.
“It is even wrong to say that we are divided. We are already united and in my opinion, a coalition is very much attainable,” he added.
Though given the unpredictable nature of politics, a lot could change before December, with the trial of the UDP leader and his colleagues and their continued detention in Mile 2, coupled with a divided opposition, Jammeh is likely to have his easiest ride back to State since his first elections in 1996.
Meanwhile, analysts are also worried that Darboe’s detention at Mile 2 without being granted bail or his sentencing barely six months from polls could also spark political tension.
Halifa Sallah of the Party for Democracy, Independence and Socialism yesterday wrote an open letter to Jammeh asking the state to drop the charges against the leading opposition figure, who he described as a prisoner of conscience.
“Leaders who close their eyes to what is reasonable and justifiable at each given moment must grope in the dark and ultimately plunge their countries into the abyss of civil strife,” Sallah wrote.
“This is the first time we are faced with a situation where a leading opposition figure with over half of his executive [party] members are facing the prospect of going to jail six months before presidential elections… So the situation is volatile,” Njie told Anadolu.