OPINION: Presidential Elections 2021: Why We Lost?
How The Gambian Opposition Walked Itself Into A Crushing DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Defeat
The minute Jammeh whisked himself into exile, the repression was no more. With time, what was a stiffened democratic space gradually opened up, accelerated by a Gambian mastery of the use of online media in ways which few could have reasonably foreseen. Once ordinary people found their voice, it was very quickly put into effective use by a people firmly determined never to be shut up ever again. Although slow to find his voice within his cabinet, but the President also eventually caught up, and having discovered his executive powers, his ‘political Godfather’ soon found out about it when the nest became too small for both ‘son’ and ‘political Godfather’ — from which rupture, emerged the not so youthful Barrow ‘Youth’ Movement and eventually the National People’s Party (NPP) and which development it is not possible to discount from any credible commentary on the subject of the Presidential Elections 2021.
Election nights, by the very nature of the reality of elections, never deliver a happy ending for all concerned and in this case, there was a sole winner’s spot. The ‘Bus driver’ (President Barrow) ensured he rode this winning wave. How this quite happened, is an enigma which I suspect will be the subject of contentious opinion for sometime to come. Some may argue that the reason why we lost has multiple shades to it, but the commentary advanced in this piece would suggest that I disagree with any such nuance view.
Unlike any previous Presidential election in recent times, last Saturday’s vote was one of underdogs and wherein it was much harder to predict or even forecast with any respectable degree of certainty who the winner was going to be. For the most part, the strategy one adopted made the difference between winning and losing — this starts with a recognition of one’s own vulnerability. On this front, events would suggest that the President was miles ahead of the game, fully recognising his vulnerability and acting to address it as far as was reasonably possible under the circumstances: he ensured he secured a coalition of as many political parties as was possible and, kept his doors open to new partners all throughout. This was of course not the silver bullet, but it accorded the President’s NPP a structural advantage over a divided opposition, aspects of which opposition spent more time speaking to the already converted than seeking out new converts, extinguishing insane levels of energy counting its artificially generated crowds than attracting organic crowds. For this crowd - obsessed opposition, their amazement as to why the crowds didn’t quite replicate themselves in votes, on the day when it mattered, is bizarre. Well, the clue to this puzzle is a very simple one: artificial crowds for show, are just that, they are not voters.
Calls for an opposition coalition as a third force against President Barrow and the United Democratic Party (UDP) were widespread. However, the louder this reasonable electorate request grew, the more uninterested the relevant opposition forces proved in their determination to go it all alone in circumstances whereby it was perfectly clear to all who cared to listen, that faced with six options, a good number of nonpartisan voters would be compelled to cast a tactical vote against their least desired candidate between UDP’s Lawyer Darboe and President Barrow in order to stop the other. Additionally, right across the spectrum exists a very solid bunch of Gambians for whom a UDP government is a very threatening prospect and who either tactically voted to prevent a UDP government or, in the case of some of us in the Diaspora, sensitised family members and friends to ensure that they tactically vote likewise. President Barrow and his NPP were undoubtedly the witting beneficiaries of this tactical fall back position which was necessitated by the absence of a coalition as a third force, votes which there is reason to believe that a Citizens’ Alliance coalition would have easily picked up had they made the ballot.
It is timely to add that President Barrow must not be complacent in the blissful belief that his landslide is a reflection of his popularity. On careful objective examination, he’ll find that he isn’t at all. However, this is not to take anything away from him and his team who no doubt understood their strengths, recognised their weaknesses, maximised their opportunities and effectively mitigated against their threats unlike their five opponents who were quite frankly shooting from the hip and hence their crushing DIY defeat. However, should the opposition take reasonable steps to prevent a recurrence of their errors come National Assembly elections in April 2022, there is absolutely no reason why they cannot reverse the crushing defeat to their advantage. Otherwise, they should expect an even more painful annihilation because whether it is understood or not, they’re up against a very determined and victory hungry opponent who in all honesty won fair and square. President Barrow and team deserve every single bit of the credit for what is the second largest number of votes cast for any Gambian Presidential candidate since independence.
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