How Mamma Kandeh’s decision could offset Gambia’s opposition’s chances against Yahya Jammeh

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Mamma Kandeh, leader of Gambia’s Democratic Congress (GDC), revealed to his supporters on the stump that he would not be joining the opposition coalition due to a lack of transparency and democracy in the selection of the coalition’s presidential candidate, Adama Barrow. Gambians on the continent and the diaspora have expressed concerns about the failure of the GDC to join the coalition, and have argued that the opposition needs Kandeh more than Kandeh needs them.

The opposition coalition which includes the United Democratic Party (UDP), National Reconciliation Party (NRP), People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), Gambian Moral Congress (GMC), National Convention Party (NCP), Gambia’s People’s Democratic Party (GPDP), and People’s Progressive Party (PPP) are backing Adama Barrow, former presidential candidate of the UDP to unseat Incumbent Yahya Jammeh in the country’s December 1st general elections.

Kandeh’s GDC party has been a subject of polarization since its inception. Gambians have described him as a “spoiler” and the reason Jammeh could retain the presidency, as his entrance into the presidential campaign could split votes between the coalition and Jammeh’s APRC party. Predictions indicate that the balance of support for candidates has shifted due to his decision to run on his own platform. His party is the latest to join Gambia’s domestic political scene after serving as a former APRC parliamentarian, he is the first politician in 22 years to form his own party after falling out with the ruling party and has denied rumors of receiving support from former ally, Yahya Jammeh.

His courage is lauded, but to others, he’s the enemy within an already divided opposition

History of coalitions 

There is a long history of coalitions formed by political parties in Gambia since independence. For instance, the Democratic Party of Reverend J.C Faye merged with Garba Jahumpa’s Gambia Muslim Congress Party to form the Democratic Congress (DC), which merged with the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) even though the PPP was the dominant party. This made it easier for the electorate to choose between the parties, and for the parties, it made sense financially to cut the cost of electioneering and give them more resources to stage an intensifying campaign.

The demise of that coalition and the emergence of the National Convention Party (NCP) led by Sheriff Mustapha Dibba, pushed forward a two party system in Gambia till 1986 when the PDOIS and Gambia People’s Party (GPP) emerged around the same time. The rise of these parties in addition to Gambia People’s Democratic Party (GPDP) changed the political landscape by creating competitive party politics.

1996 and 2001 elections

In 1996, electoral votes acquired by the United Democratic Party (UDP) were 35.84%, National Reconciliation Party (NRP), 5.52%; PDOIS, 2.87%, and the APRC won with 55.77%. The figures changed in the 2001 elections due to the lift on the ban of political parties, which led to the rise of the National Convention Party (NCP). The UDP led coalition received 32.59% of the votes; NRP received 7.8%, NCP-3.77% and PDOIS, 3.02%. The increase in opposition votes affected the votes received by the APRC from 55.77% in 1996, to 52.84% in 2001.

In comparison, the support of the opposition parties increased in 2001. However, there was a decline in support from the APRC base, which could be attributed to emergence of the National Convention Party, which split the votes. The NCP supporters who could have supported the opposition to unseat the presidency threw their weight behind the APRC, which subsequently cost the opposition the elections.

2006 elections

Jammeh’s APRC witnessed a rise in their support base during the 2006 election, due to the decision of the NCP to throw its weight behind the party. The reason for the increase in support was blamed on the opposition’s failure to unite and field a presidential candidate, which had an impact on the union of the opposition in the two camps; the UDP led Alliance for Regime Change (ARC) and the National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD).

2011 Elections

The 2011 election witnessed a similar pattern with the opposition camps. UDP received 17.36% and the UF received 11.11%, while the APRC received 71.54%. Pundits blamed the outcome of the results on the failure of the opposition to adequately unite.

Mamma Kandeh’s foray into the presidential run could upset the chances of the opposition coalition this time around despite their efforts in uniting and presenting a presidential candidate. This opposition coalition succeeded in doing what other coalitions could barely attain in previous elections by rallying their support base and fielding a flag bearer for the party. Kandeh’s candidacy could force a split between both opposition parties and a good chance for Jammeh’s party to retain the presidency. Spectators are looking to see if the huge crowds that show up at his campaign rallies will translate to votes for the party, or if his perceived supporters are only at the rallies to see the “new guy.”

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