1986-1992: The period of enlightenment
1(a).The establishment of a Press (Freedom) as a means of shaping public opinion by providing an alternative medium to that of the state media controlled by the ruling party.
(b). The commencement of a village to village tour to sensitize the people on their rights as tax payers in a Sovereign Republic and why they should know the programme of a party before making informed choices.
(c). The recording of meetings and dissemination of cassettes, leaflets and pamphlets to expand awareness.
1992-1994: The period of organization
(a). Mobilising people who are convinced by the PDOIS message and organise them to form branches of the party.
(b). Village to village tours to serve to build the branches and give them civic education materials.
1994 -1996: The Coup Period
The President and Ministers of the Government under President Jawara either left the country, or surrendered to the coup makers. Two members of the PDOIS leadership invited to be Ministers but rejected the offer on the basis of the principle that the coup makers should recognise the sovereignty of the people and call for a National conference to determine the nature of the transition. The Constitution was suspended, House of Representatives dissolved, Parties banned. PDOIS refused to be banned. PDOIS continued to call for a National Conference comprising all stakeholders to determine the mode of the transition to Democratic Constitutional rule. Decree No. 4 was promulgated to ban activities linked to political parties including publication. Many would agree that Decree No. 4 was meant to suppress PDOIS, since all the other parties had accepted the ban. The PDOIS leadership defied the ban and landed in police cell and court.
Prior to the defiance, people like the late Dr Omar Touray were sent abroad so they would continue PDOIS’ legacy should there be any disastrous outcome of our defiance strategy. The party appointed trustees to exert social pressure for the holding of a national conference for the restoration of the Republic and the holding of elections.Eventually, a National Consultative Committee, instead of a National Conference, was established to avoid involving parties as stakeholders. Members of the PDOIS gave input during the consultative exercise and wrote recommendations for constitutional and electoral review. Some proposals were accepted and those not considered would be part of our own agenda for Constitutional and electoral reform.
1996- 2001: The suppression of the parties of the first republic
1996 party activities were restored with conditionality. PPP, NCP and GPP were banned from registration under the pretext that their leaders served the overthrown government at one time or the other. The PDOIS leadership expected that the leadership of the banned parties would seek PDOIS’ solidarity and come to one of three possible terms with PDOIS:
a) An agreement not to register and select one Independent Candidate to stand and run a democratic transition which would lead to the restoration of all parties;
b) Agree for PDOIS to register and Sidia Jatta be supported on terms and conditions which would be agreed;
c) A total boycott and call on the international community to oppose the ban and promote its lifting before any elections.
The Betrayal of PDOIS ‘Expectations’
The PPP, NCP and GPP leaders did not consult the PDOIS leadership for any strategic alliance. Instead they encouraged the formation of a new party to enter into strategic alliance with a new leader. The ban was lifted in August and elections were scheduled for September1996. The combined force of the parties of the first Republic and all those who were alienated by the coup makers gave rise to a wave against the camp of the coup makers. The combined force of those who supported the overthrow and did not want a come back of any force allied to the old regime also created a wave which campaigned against the other wave.
The PDOIS leadership drew the lesson that the politics of the country had been transformed into two mass waves. Since PDOIS was sidelined by the wave of the opposition, PDOIS had to be registered and had a campaign based on its principles which could not lead to the building of a wave. We spent the period 1996-2001 consolidating the support base of the party after winning the seat in Wuli and having 8500 votes in Serrekunda East, which was higher than the votes of other opposition parties. As far as Parliamentary Elections were concerned, PDOIS continued to take the lead in the two constituencies ahead of other opposition parties.
In 2001, the ban was lifted. PPP and NCP were registered. Since it was clear that the Opposition had to build a wave to remove the ruling party, PDOIS again waited to be consulted. The PDOIS was only informed of the meeting to hold a coalition on the last day due to the insistence of the NCP leader. When we requested for one day adjournment, it was resisted by the PPP leader that time was against them. A decision was made which pushed the NCP leader out of the alliance which created the 1996 wave.
In 2001, the political wave which emerged in 1996 was still strong to maintain mass following. However, the results did not lead to victory. PDOIS continued to build its support base outside of the wave when it was sidelined.
2001-2003: Expansion and Consolitation of PDOIS after the coup
In 2002, PDOIS put up just five candidates in comparison to the 15 candidates it put up in 1997. We took Wuli West and Serre-kunda Central despite attempt by the ruling party to divide both constituencies to reduce PDOIS’ parliamentary strength. We also had more than 20 percent of the votes in the other Constituencies.
Our conclusion was that the momentum which had given rise to the 1996 wave had lost its vitality, and focus was necessary to build a new momentum after the 2002 Parliamentary elections. The PDOIS leadership set itself the goal of building such a momentum by consolidating our branches and informing the electorate about the need for a non partisan transition after Jammeh as a viable way of building a wave that could bring all on board.
2003 – 2006: Sacrificing PDOIS for an umbrella party to build a wave to end self perpetuating rule
In 2003, all registered political parties in The Gambia, including the ruling party were invited to Atlanta, USA by AGERA a group of Gambian nationals in the USA to attend a conference to explain our policies to them. At the end of the programme, a group of Gambians who are being left behind in the historical narrative and whose name we cannot recall invited representatives of opposition parties to More House College to discuss opposition unity. The holding of a meeting on the sideline on opposition unity led to a proposal by the PPP leader for the selection of Halifa Sallah as a Coordinator charged with bringing the opposition together to form an Alliance.
Recognising the new dynamism acquired by PDOIS after the 2002 National Assembly elections a proposal was made for Halifa Sallah, Secretary General of PDOIS and the then opposition leader in the National Assembly, to be the Coordinator charged with the responsibility of bringing parties together, which was unanimously accepted by all the other party representatives when made by the Interim leader of the PPP, Mr Omar Jallow. Halifa Sallah had to convince the members of the Central Committee of PDOIS that his appointment as a coordinator should not be rejected even though it was seen as a scheme by most PDOIS members to delay the progress of the party while past coalitions were already in a disarray.
Halifa Sallah convened the first meeting of the opposition parties after consultation. He initially conveyed to them that two types of alliances were possible. He argued that if the political parties wanted party based alliance, all parties should go on the field to build their support base and then reconvene to negotiate an alliance close to elections, based on their perceived strength on the ground. On the other hand, if they were interested in a non partisan wave to effect democratic change, they could put their individual parties aside and form an umbrella party which would put up a candidate who would stay for one term to preside over constitutional, institutional and other economic reforms necessary to put a democratic foundation in place, followed by the holding of free and fair elections.
The agreement gave birth to NADD. To avoid any impasse, we agreed that Candidates would either be unanimously selected by the leaders or through a primary. All parties agreed to form the umbrella party and endorsed its Memorandum of Understanding. NADD participated in 6 by-elections against the APRC and won four, and was also ahead in the popular vote before some decided to leave. At the time some broke away there was no conclusion on presidential candidature. After the break away the wave dissipated. Change became illusive. Halifa Sallah was eventually nominated as a presidential candidate at the eleventh hour. He volunteered to negotiate with the UDP leader to get those who broke away to join the fold again on mutually agreed compromise. Unfortunately as the discussion was going on an announcement was made by a parter of the UDP coalition that the discussion was about getting NADD to support the UDP coalition. It was then clear that those who broke away from NADD would not come back. Political apathy was the final outcome.
2006 – 2011: Redeeming PDOIS' integrity and spirit of self-abnegation of its leadership
PDOIS was concerned about the accusation that NADD collapsed because of struggle for the power. The leadership wanted to prove that it had no interest in seeking the presidency for its sake. Commitment was made to help build a united front without contesting to be a coalition flag bearer for the 2011 presidential election.
Hence we worked towards the sole aim of putting self-perpetuating rule to an end by building a United Front for the 2011 Presidential elections on the platform of a one term presidency. Even though the United Front existed only for few weeks before elections, it had 11 percent of the votes because of the lack of participation of some parties. We demanded minimum electoral reform to participate in the National Assembly Elections and accepted to be left on the sideline to expose the system, followed by proposals for electoral reform.
POST 2011: PDOIS’ tactical alliance to strengthen the opposition and for electoral reform
The PDOIS aimed for the United Front to collaborate with the UDP led Coalition to contest seats which had a chance to win so that the opposition would have either more than one quarter of the votes in the National Assembly to be able to stop constitutional amendments or more than a half of the seats to be in control of the national assembly. Taking into consideration the level of political consciousness at the time, it was deemed necessary to promote minimal electoral reform to free the electorate from the grip of the governors, chiefs and other officials in their communities. A group of seven opposition parties petitioned the IEC for the minimum electoral reform to be enforced so that the Gambian population and the international community will take note of what is wrong and the efforts made to remedy them.
The decision of the IEC to go to elections without accommodating the concerns of the opposition undermined the credibility of the elections. In short, out of 48 seats only 23 Constituency seats were contested. Out of 796,929 registered voters only 304,000 voters in the 23 Constituencies were supposed to take part. However, only 154,950 voters voted in the 23 constituencies. PDOIS did not call for a boycott. Hence Independent candidates contested 18 seats. NRP, which broke away from the group of seven thus leaving it to be The Group of Six, contested 8 seats.
The APRC Candidates who contested 23 seats won 80,249 of the popular vote. The Independent Candidates who contested 18 seats won 60,085 of the popular vote, while the NRP Candidates who contested 8 seats had 14, 606 of the popular vote. In a proportional representation system, the 23 seats contested would have been closely divided between APRC and the Independent candidates However, because of the first past the post system, APRC ended up with 18 seats, Independent Candidates had 4 seats and NRP emerged with one seat.
In the council elections, 45 Council seats out of 114 were contested. The Independent Candidates won 10 seats. NRP won no seat. In the Mayoral elections in Banjul, out of 21,178 registered voters only 9,733 voted and the Independent candidate won. In the KMC Mayoral elections, out of 187,757 voters only 36,755 voters participated. The APRC had 25,773 votes.
It is therefore clear that the 2016 electoral cycle opens with a clean slate. Its outcome will depend on how the hearts and minds of the people will be shaped in these two years. Immediately after the 2013 council elections NADD was left with no member in the National Assembly since Sidia did not stand as a NADD candidate in the 2012 National Assembly elections. The former NADD councillor in Wuli West also stood as a candidate in the 2013 council election. NADD was dealt a final blow when the PPP also wrote to withdraw from NADD. PDOIS was the last to have anything to do with NADD which had to be dissolved.
The way forward for 2016
PDOIS calls for all political parties to go on the ground to build their bases and select their presidential candidates. If there is electoral reform, they could put up their candidates to deprive the incumbent of the majority required to win in the first round, and form an alliance in the second round as has happened in Senegal.
PDOIS proposes that if there is no credible electoral reform, the presidential candidates of opposition parties and their committees should meet to agree on modalities of selecting one candidate to face the incumbent in 2016.
PDOIS is proposing a bottom-up approach as opposed to a top-down approach. Hence parties should proceed to hold their primaries to select their presidential candidates and carry out their campaign to build their popularity on the ground should an Alliance become necessary because of the absence of a second round.
To weigh their popular appeal, these candidates could join one caravan with their committees to tour the population centres of the country and see for themselves what the people think about each of them before holding a primary, or any form of selection process agreeable to all, to choose a presidential candidate.
With this approach, parties will not dash the hopes of the people by promoting an alliance up to the dying hours of an electoral process and then withdraw from Alliances and start accusing each other of betrayal, which only encourages voter apathy and facilitates a smooth sailing of the incumbent to victory.