When Dictators Use “Democratically Elected” To Claim Legitimacy
As much as we like to think that stealing elections is peculiar to African dictators, it’s actually quite an art that is perfected by many leaders across the world. Trump is doing a good job of it in the USA where some people are expressing fears that he may in fact refuse to leave the presidency when he’s sent packing. But for this piece, we will limit our take to our region, specifically our dear Gambia, where some of us love parroting “democratically elected” government at every opportunity the legitimacy of a certain regime is questioned. Election results alone do not declare a government “democratically elected.” If democratic elections are what give legitimacy, then it must follow that the elections conform to basic democratic tenets. Results of an election are not what determines whether an election was democratic or free or fair. If that were the case, Charles Dunbar Burgess King, a one-time president of Liberia who somehow ended up with over 200,000 votes when the country only had 15,000 voters at the time, was democratically elected too. In the words of Yaya Jammeh, even if Gambians don’t vote for me, the jinns will! Apparently jinns must have voted for President King too! Then we can say he too was “democratically elected”.
Sometime ago, I gave an example of a football tournament in which a football team captain organizing the tournament gets to select all the referees and also decides the rules of the game. The captain can pick and choose all the match officials and also decide when other teams can train for the tournament. The captain controls all the resources of the tournament and he can register new players at any time but he alone can do that. That analogy was to demonstrate how “democratic and free and fair” electioneering was under Yaya Jammeh. From the referendum on the 1997 Constitution, to the elections of 2016, there was NEVER a single free and fair or democratic election under Yaya Jammeh! The 1997 Constitution so called constitutionalists keep harping on stopped reflecting the views of Gambians from the very first time Yaya and his lawyers decided to remove term limits and continued to butcher it dozens of times over 22 years. But these hypocrites and their AU and ECOWAS allies have no issue with the violations against the will of the people! So long as there’s a constitution, whether it reflects the will and desires of the people does not matter to these purists!
Elections are supposed to be the mechanism through which the people willingly choose who to entrust their governance affairs with. Because many people think they have better ideas and programs to better the people’s lives, electioneering becomes a contest. But as with any contest where a winner must emerge, there are rules that govern the conduct of all contestants. A central and critical theme to all the rules of elections are the twin principles of the people’s freedom to choose who they want to represent them and the fairness of the election process. That’s why in The Gambia we have what we call the Independent Electoral Commission! Note that “Independent” is so critical to their functions that it’s actually included in their name! Never mind that the Commissioners are appointed by the President, sworn in by people appointed by the president and once sworn, thank the president for the appointment!
To be Continued…
Alagie Barrow is a former captain in the us army and former director of research and investigations at the TRRC. He is currently an independent consultant focusing on Leadership, Investigations, Security and Strategic Communications.