By Own Correspondent – In pursuit of its journalistic duties in the build-up to the coming presidential, parliamentary and local government elections, which are due next year through 2013, The Point continues to elicit comments from notable political functionaries in the country.
The latest to join the widely commended debate on political parties’ plans and preparations ahead of the elections is Ousainou Darboe, Secretary General and party leader of the opposition United Democratic Party, whose comments came barely a week after Halifa Sallah of the opposition PDOIS and Yankuba Colley of the ruling APRC opened the debate.
Darboe, who was speaking with our political correspondent at the UDP bureau in Banjul Wednesday morning, stated with confidence that the UDP is not just going into the elections because it wants to take part, but that the UDP is going for the elections due to its fervent belief that it will be victorious.
What follows are the views of the UDP leader:
When you talk of an agenda, it depends on the context in which you use that word. An agenda could very well mean your strategy; an agenda could very well mean your objectives. So it really depends in what context the word agenda is used.
Well, let me say that we have been preparing ourselves for the 2011 elections, and this is evident by our holding of a national congress in Jarra Soma in June of this year, in which new officials were selected and resolutions passed.
Subsequent to this congress, we have embarked on sensitisation and mobilisation at the grassroots level. All this is in preparation for the 2011 presidential elections, 2012 National Assembly elections and 2013 local government elections.
The youth wing has been revamped, and we have representatives from all over the country. This is geared towards decentralising the operations of the party, and its activities. Just two days ago, we inaugurated the new executive of the women’s wing.
All these are in preparation for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 elections. We don’t have to wait until the election dates are announced, and start going around organising. We are strengthening our positions in areas where we are strong, and winning over support in areas where we are weak.
This is what we will continue to do whether or not we are going for elections with other parties, because you have to be organised. Even if there has to be an alliance with other political parties, your party has to be organised to impact positively on the alliance. Otherwise, if your party is not well organised, and you do not have grassroots support, your membership of any alliance will just be in name, and not in value.
So we have to continue with it, and we will continue with it. In fact, we have started identifying people who should serve as registering clerks/agents in the various constituencies so that come the voter registration period, we are there. This is how we get ourselves prepared.
Those people who rely on government facilities will be really shocked that, in fact, when parties are organised at the grassroots by the members of the party themselves, they are more effective than any government machinery.
As I always said in the past, I have never downplayed the importance of a united front. I have been emphasising that and, in fact, made calls for it. Maybe, for the sake of repetition, I will repeat here that I have had more than one meeting with Mr Omar Jallow (OJ), and that is why I was a little bit surprised when Mr. Landing Jallow-Sonko said that I should reach out to them. Having reached Mr Jallow, who is the leader of the PPP, I thought I was reaching out to all those who support the PPP.
I have said it in the past that I have made approaches to NADD/PDOIS, and there has not been any fruitful reaction, but I am not relenting.
I am pursuing that agenda that I am mandated by my party to tell the public that, ‘look this is what we are going to put forward’.
When I meet with the PDOIS/NADD camp, who are responsible for inter-party matters, I will tell them exactly how we think we should have a united front, and I think that any reasonable person would agree to the proposals that we will be making, because it will be the proposal that has been universally used in the formation of coalitions and alliances.
We will be making our proposals, and I will hope that we will not be ignored or snubbed. In fact, I don’t think anybody in his right mind now will snub any leader of any political party who comes forward with a proposal. We should listen to the proposal and try to convince each other as to the viability of our various positions, and I hope that we will be able to do so.
One thing I want to make clear, which I have said in the past, and I will repeat it again, is that many people say that the UDP is the cause of NADD’s disintegration. Those people are the detractors of UDP. There is no cream of truth in that.
Those who are responsible for the disintegration of NADD are well known, and some of them have even decamped from NADD and decided to join other political forces in the country.
Nonetheless, hopes are very very high! As I said, the activities that we have been going through prior to June this year, and subsequent to that, is all geared towards putting the UDP in a state of preparedness for the cycles of elections that we will face in the next three years.
Obviously, we are not going into the elections just because we want to take part in the elections. We are going into the elections because of our fervent belief that we will be victorious.
You were present at the Brikama rally, and you saw the number of defectors from the APRC. At this crucial moment, anybody decamping or publicly announcing that he was decamping from the APRC must be a person genuinely committed to the opposition cause, and not just a person who has seen it all in APRC. And there are several of such people throughout the length and breadth of the Gambia. I got calls from people that I thought would never pledge their support for any opposition party in this country.
We are going to consolidate these gains, and we will be doing rallies, but it is not going to be big ones. We have our people working at the grassroots level in the various parts of the country, and I just want to say that in the next couple of days, I will be out to visit two or three constituencies, discuss with them very seriously, and hold intimate conversations with the constituents. I will be doing this on a weekly basis.
Comments by Yankuba Colley that the APRC is going to use the President’s gown to campaign in the next presidential election amounts to an insult to the electorate, and not us the opposition leaders. I think he’s been insultive not to us, but to the people because if you take a gown to the people for a campaign, it is those people you are insulting.
I have not felt offended about that statement at all, because I know that the statement is not for us at all, but it is for the electorate and that, for them, a gown is as good as anything.
These are opinions and, honestly, as far as I am concerned, I want those who are not the toothless bulldogs, those have what it takes to be the biting bulldogs to come and take the leadership of the United Democratic Party so that the desired change that we want could be effected, and I will follow them. Let those bulldogs with biting teeth come over please.
I can speak on behalf of the current leadership of the UDP namely: Yahya Jallow, Ebou Manneh, Dembo By Force, Shyngle Nyassi, Kemesseng Jammeh, Ousman Rambo Jatta, among others, that we are prepared to step down for those who can really take over and lead us to a change. That is what we want, but they should not just be sitting there and say, ‘the opposition in the Gambia are toothless bulldogs that just bark, and will never bite’.
Obviously, in 1996, we were not as organised as today, because we just registered the party on the 23rd of August 1996 and went into the election on the 26th of September 1996. So, there wasn’t that organised structure like the youth wing or the female wing, and so on. But now we do have all that, and I believe that we are now on a very good terrain as far as organisation is concerned.
I think it is absolutely incorrect to say that we go and collect money from people who are non-Gambians. We are law-abiding citizens, and we know that the constitution and the laws of this country prohibit political parties from soliciting or obtaining funds from non-Gambians. Of course, we do get funds from Gambians, and at the congress, I did mention this.
Those who were at the congress heard me mention what Gambians in the diaspora are doing to support our cause here. We are not like the APRC, who engaged in all sorts of things, and this is going on and on. Whatever we receive is well accounted for. I think the APRC should tell us which Mr. X or Y in Ohio or in Atlanta has donated anything to the UDP. The vehicle we have, I have mentioned the individuals who gave it to us. We have nothing to hide, and we will never hide anything.
Yankuba Colley said that the opposition parties are a one-man show. For me, I don’t have the power to expel anybody from the UDP, unlike others. Once an officer is elected by the congress, I am at par with him. I cannot remove him from his office nor can he remove me from my office. The only organ that has authority to remove any elected official after the congress is the central committee.
So, this just shows how democratic we are. I hope the APRC learns from the opposition parties how to run a party that is based on democracy.