The Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) is arguably the largest Gambian political party. The party has contributed to the advancement of Gambians and credited in fostering political consciousness in thousands of ordinary Gambians since its formation in 1996. The APRC over the years has dug its root so deep and spread its branches so wide into the provinces that it was virtually impossible for any individual party to win in a presidential election. But a coalition of parties forming a solid block against the APRC in the 2016 presidential election revitalized many Gambians who gave up on the prospect of defeating the APRC through the ballot box. It took a coalition of eight different presidential candidates to strategically tame and neutralize the APRC. The realization of a defeated APRC has puzzled and contrived a legal quandary for stakeholders within the party. Thus the party needs to carefully calculate every political move it makes from now on. Whatever action taken by the APRC and its leadership in these very difficult times shall forever be noted in our political history. As they deliberate, It is important that the party yields to diverse recommendations from its stakeholders and not a monolithic one. I doubt that a political party as large and influential as the APRC are all collectively in sync with the post-election narrative and political statements we read in the observer. When the election results were announced on the 2nd of December 2016, Gambians were impressed with the maturity of some APRC members who gracefully went on various online radios to concede defeat and called on all Gambians to work together. The president likewise strengthen our democratic process when he accepted the election results. I sincerely believe that the president meant what he said in his congratulatory message to president-elect Barrow. I don’t want to speculate into what or who motivated him to change his mind but those individuals didn’t just put the country in a political crisis, they further compromised the fate of the APRC as a political party. I happened to be one of the hopeful Gambians who believe that president Jammeh will allow the transition to take place for the sake of peace. If peace prevails, president Jammeh will certainly be part of those credited for playing a role in vindicating Gambia from its post election crisis. An important component of political maturity is to accept defeat and hold the new administration accountable. It also requires that we put country first and deal with our fellow countrymen and political contenders moderately, and not as state enemies. This is an important aspect as to why we as Africans continue to trail behind. Let us proof to the world that Gambians will not be another statistic in Africa’s political crisis.We are all Gambians and this privilege will not be taken away irrespective of our political affiliations. A successful Gambia benefits not one party but all Gambians.
I pray and hope that our brothers and fellow Gambians who are influential within the APRC will advice the president to go back to his original position for the sake of securing the peace and wellbeing of the Gambian people and for the sake of his party. There are certainly few people on both sides who are extreme political militants and are now trying to turn this precarious post-election moment into tribal politics, domestic vs diaspora Gambians, and so forth. But majority of Gambians on both sides of the spectrum are ordinary Gambians with good intentions towards their country. If a Gambian is not an APRC member, chances are a family member or a close friend is. We all have a role to play in securing the peace of our country, and the most virtuous role an APRC member can play from now on is to advocate for peace and aggressively advice the decision makers within the party to let this presidential election cycle go. The APRC still constitute a majority in parliament and it will most likely take only 3 years (36 months) before the next presidential election. I sincerely ask my brothers in the APRC to weigh the options and not let emotions takeover. Is the party serving as an administration or a political institution that is here to stay?. Is sitting on the bench and waiting for the next presidential election worst than Gambians killing each other on the streets?. I believe that majority of our fellow Gambians loyal to the APRC will rather take measures that will preserve our dignity and save the lives of Gambians over election disputes.
The realization that the APRC had lost the election was not an easy pill to swallow for the supporters of the party. The immediate questions that naturally came from members of the APRC upon the realization of the election outcome were mostly geared towards the future of the party.
Will the APRC be allowed to contest in future elections?, will the APRC be the same political party?, can the APRC ever win an election in The Gambia from now on?. These were some of the salient questions many of my friends were asking immediately after the election results were disclosed. To start, the APRC is constitutionally abled to contest in any election in The Gambia, as long as our constitution stays democratic and retains the attributes of a representative government. There are indeed instances in history in which members of a defeated political party/parties flees or merged into other political parties to avoid persecution from the victors. These scenarios comes into play almost always when a ruling party is forced out by means of violence. To a lesser degree, we saw this played out in our own political history when the People Progressive Party (PPP) was forced out by the Arm Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) in 1994. All the PPP affiliates including the president, immediately fled the country with the exception of BB Darbo (who was also ousted soon after). The party was banned from the political process even after the transition period in 1996. This made it almost impossible for the PPP to seriously contest for the presidency after it was allowed to participate over a decade later.
Fortunately for the APRC, it was defeated through a democratic and peaceful fashion. This is a rear outcome in a tumultuous region like Africa, and credits goes to the incumbent for setting up an independent electoral commission. This democratic change now gives the APRC the ability to function like any other defeated political parties in advance democracies around the world. The Republican or Democratic parties in America, for example, flourish and stay intact irrespective of party leadership. George Bush (the son) was very unpopular after he invaded Iraq and nosedived the economy into a recession that caused unemployment to rise in the double digits. As a result, the Republic party lost terribly to the Democratic Party. It took eight good years for the republicans to convince the American public. Today, the same Republican Party managed to skillfully take over the country with a populous businessman name Donald J Trump. This is indeed how political parties in functioning democratic nations operates; if you loose, leak your wounds, learn from past mistakes while strategizing to win again. The APRC needs to take heed. The party should not take this lost personal, the party should rather acknowledge the winners and use this time to reflect and contemplate on what just happened and how it happened.
Will the APRC ever be the same?, I hope not. Political parties then and now overcome obstacles and survive because they consciously adapt to existential realities on the ground. The Gambian people have chosen to sway in a different direction, in a new era, with a new attitude. If the APRC is to survive, it must accept and adapt to these new realities. The party needs to speak the language of the people and be effective in reassuring the population that it has listened, and is more than ever willing to deliver to the Gambian people come next election. If the party doesn’t alter its direction, it will potentially lose many of its supporters.
Can the APRC win again?, currently yes. Any Gambian who understands our electoral system will no doubt answer this question in the affirmative. The party has a great opportunity to pull one of the biggest upsets in our political history. The APRC is one of the leading parties that stands a real chance of winning after the transitioning period ends in 3 years. This realization should start now, but it is completely up to those who operate the engine of the party. With the 53 constituencies in The Gambia, the party has over the years secured populated regions that are loyal to the teeth towards the APRC, and will always vote APRC. Keep this factor in mind: the coalition won the election with less than 20 thousand votes against the APRC (a little over 4% merging). This merging more than anything shows the strength and influence of the APRC. For eight different parties to unite and win with less impressive numbers should be looked at as a sign of optimism and encouragement for the APRC. We know that the coalition pre-election bylaw mandates that the coalition dissolves after 36 months and allow the eight political parties that formed the coalition to run against each other in a presidential election, which will include the APRC and the GDC. Individually, the respective parties that formed the coalition can never manufacture the numbers they got in this past election. I am not hinting that the APRC will easily win by default, but if the party respectfully changes its leadership, affirms the recent election outcome, canvass extremely hard, and strategize smartly, the party stands a higher chance of winning based on the current voting patterns on the ground.
A patient cannot be cured without being diagnosed first. These 36 months before the next presidential election should be utilized smartly and prudently. The tone and narrative of the APRC should be completely different, the party should illustrate to the Gambian people that the APRC is a conventional political institution that is here to stay and contribute to the progress of our great nation. It should be made clear to Gambians that the party is not an outgoing administration. If the party fails to fix-up and deliver these narrative, alternative parties like the GDC will serve as a refuge for potential APRC defectors, or defectors within the party will form a new political party.
To conclude, leadership within the party needs to change before the upcoming election. Allowing a party to change its leadership is not a betrayal. For it is important to note that the change of party leadership is healthy and necessary. Ushering in a new leadership with a new direction simply embolden and reenergizes a party to function in a new political dimension that requires change. As stated earlier, political parties must function as “directed mutation” to survive history. If the Party survives, the legacy of the founders remains forever with the party (for the good or the bad). But if the party fails, everyone and everything fails. The APRC should be thankful that it was not removed in a coup d’etat but through the ballot box, it cannot afford to go from something to nothing like the PPP back in 1994. The party needs to keep moving on or it will not survive, is that simple. This is indeed a crucial moment for the APRC to determine if the party is an administration or if the party is an institution that is willing to be part of an ever changing Gambia.
May the great God of nations continue to bless our homeland and it’s people!