Assessing Current Trends In Gambian Politics

We may not have reliable statistics or polls to effectively gauge the political leanings of the citizenry but we can still use what we have. So let’s crunch some numbers shall we?

As it stands in The Gambia, the National Assembly has United Democratic Party (UDP) members occupying 31 out of 58 total elected seats, about 53%. 5 other parties and an independent candidate share the remainder of the seats. Note; the party did not contest in all constituencies.

In the Local government, only 1 regional administrative council seat is not held by a UDP candidate, so 99% majority there.  That trend repeated itself at the lowest rung of the electoral ladder; the ward councilors representing local communities as elected councilors at local government councils.

Out of 120 wards, the UDP fielded 113 Candidates. We do not need to delve into an in depth analysis of the overall results but one example will suffice for this analysis. In places like Banjul where UDP is not deemed as having a strong grassroots game, the party sponsored candidate won the mayoral race to become the first ever female Mayoress of the capital city. The party’s backed ward councilors won 5 seats out of 9 in a city that traditionally is not embracing of the party’s platform. Given that Banjul ranks very low on the UDP-favored regions index, one can see how the rest of the regions fared with the exception of Foni where the party did not field candidates for the most part.

That is where things stand right now; absolute majority in parliament and local government and with equal stakes in the national executive as a coalition stakeholder. So what does the future look like?

What Are The Possible Scenarios?

Multiple scenarios can unfold leading up to the next election cycle;

  1. President Barrow resigns: – With the current rhetoric pervading the political space; that is too risky a proposition to bet on. But if he did, either at the 3 year mark or the 5 year mark the odds will favor the UDP for obvious reason. Don’t count on that scenario though.
  2. President Barrow throws his hat in the ring: – He can do so in several ways. For the purposes of this write up we will say his new party is called Barrow Youth Movement (BYM) or NDP – National Development Party;
    • He runs solo under this new banner, some of his supporters will naturally be from the UDP but the numbers will not be as impactful as some are forecasting. The general sentiment within the party as shown during the party’s last congress has clarified that an overwhelming majority are not factional. They will remain with the UDP. The president doubling down on his pandering to the BYM is also an affirmation that he is not too hopeful of making a dent in the UDP support base; enter former Jammeh loyalists, a risky bet if he wants to succeed overall.
    • He runs through a merger/coalition type deal with some other parties. National Reconciliation Party (NRP) it seems is the only party thus far that is firmly planted behind him. The former president’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) is currently a free for all as it is a shell of its former self. Thus far, the people from within the APRC that are drawn to the BYM/NDP leave much to be desired. Ergo their presence and prominence in the BYM/NDP will turn some away. No doubt UDP will try to lobby former UDP supporters in the BYM/NDP back. This merger could be in the first round or in a runoff vote.
    • For the purpose of objectivity I will say no one secures the 50+1 percent  of the votes needed to secure the executive in the first round (even though I don’t believe so). Whoever goes to the runoff will be vying against the UDP. Let’s say President Barrow does not secure the second place, who will he throw his weight behind? But being realistic, incumbency is an added advantage. So he clears the first round but not with enough votes to form his own government, now he faces off with the UDP. Next question is what party will back which other party in the second round?
    • Barrow runs under a UDP ticket. Is it possible; yes. Is it likely; no. Simply because if Barrow decides to secure nomination as a UDP candidate and fails at the congress, there will be dissatisfaction within the party; the dissatisfied in that case will be a smaller group than if he actually wins the UDP nomination. His BYM adventure has caused enough dissatisfaction already.
    • There is one other highly likely scenario, It will be a shocker move for many and a key decider as to the outcome of the upcoming elections, but let’s keep watching as things unfold closer to the elections to see what will emerge. We will leave that possible scenario out for now.

Who Will Be The Likely Allies?

APRC it seems stands to lose the greatest chunk of its support base to the new movement.  NRP is already sealed and delivered but how much of a base has it got left after Gambia Democratic Congress intruded on NRP territory? NRP can still lift Saloum and maybe Nianija .

People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism may have joined a coalition out of necessity in ousting tyranny, but ideologically the party is too strict as to sacrifice its deep seated principles for expediency. Its political formula may not resonate with the voter, but they are too firmly rooted in their ideology that in a democratic and open space, they will stick to their guns. In all likelihood the party will not openly endorse either candidate but will “educate” its voters to “vote wisely.” So I will bet PDOIS will be neutral and let her supporters decide who to vote for.  Judging by current sentiments towards the Barrow administration from that camp, when the contest is to have either a UDP government or a successive Barrow government, the odds will more likely favor UDP. That is basing the projection on reasonable observation of current trends, but then again similar sentiments are directed towards the UDP from PDOIS supporters. The difference being that UDP is a rival political party and Barrow is heading a sitting government, so objectivity would require rejecting a tried and tested system deemed to have performed below par and entrust a new set of administrators to deliver. But politics makes for strange bed fellows.

Gambia Moral Congress (GMC) has been building its ground game and had a sympathetic ear from certain segments within Gambians, due largely to the charisma of the current party leader. So the party is gaining some ground and visibly so. In past elections the party has aligned with the UDP and when the strategy for contesting the NA elections created two distinct camps, the party aligned with the UDP on the ‘Tactical Alliance’ approach. Ideologically the two parties do not differ on much. So it is safe to bet on GMC throwing her weight behind the UDP in a runoff.

When the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and National Convention Party (NCP) were banned following the military coup of 1994, the UDP emerged to fill the vacuum and those parties’ supporters eventually formed the support base of the UDP. The two are still registered and active but it will be hard to reclaim their old glory. With the new fast paced politics and constantly changing demographics with young people accounting for the greatest chunk of the voting bloc, PPP’s selling point as the party that led The Gambia to independence and then presided over a democratic state may not resonate with the young, who are largely ignorant of that fact or at best not interested. So it is unlikely that the old glorious days will return; same goes for the NCP who is currently less active than the PPP. NCP is likely to swing on UDP’s side. As to the PPP aligning with BYM/NDP, it will be hard to see an official party position backing that move after prominent party personalities have been openly critical of the Barrow administration, and have in the past openly aligned with UDP and formed past political alliances with the UDP. So it is not too farfetched to see a recurrence of that.

Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC) thus far have displayed a disposition to be a go-it-alone party, the party believes it can pull enough support to emerge a ruling party in The Gambia. So an alliance with anyone prior to first round voting will be nearly impossible, but who are they likely to back in a runoff? I would bet on the party backing Barrow, not on principle but expediency.

Gambia People’s Democratic Party (GPDP) is not pulling much weight politically, and their backing may not translate into much, numerically speaking.

We will definitely see the emergence on the scene of new political parties but beyond the initial furor, those parties will not make much of an inroad in their first political season.

So if we are to draw up a projection of what is likely to happen, Barrow’s incumbency will definitely play to his advantage, but how much so? That will depend on who aligns with him. Already he has succeeded in engendering a lack of faith in his administration and himself from a lot of quarters for a number of varied reasons.

UDP has the ground game and the numbers going for it. The party endorsed first time runners and politicians who were hitherto unknown only for them to sweep polls at their first run. The party leader and the image he crafted for himself in the political space fighting tyranny is also an added bonus.

We may not know exactly how many independent/non-affiliated voters we have or which way they may swing, but we know the UDP’s base has not been noticeably tapped into. So , if there is currently any party that can win an absolute majority at the polls it is UDP, if no one secures the 50+1 percentage point needed to be declared winner, whoever makes it into the second round will be battling against the UDP because if UDP does not lead in the first round, it definitely will not do worse than second place.

So again, for all those calling for patriotism and Gambia first, how do you objectively exclude/sideline a party that has a choke hold on the state machinery for the foreseeable future as far as politics is concerned? Is it not more prudent to engage them objectively with the aim of making it better for the sake of the country? Wishing it dies or slide into irrelevance is unrealistic.




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