DOES THE COALITION STILL NEED A SPOKESPERSON

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Coalition spokesperson: Halifa Sallah

The recent press conference of the spokesperson of the Gambia’s ruling coalition government, Mr. Halifa Sallah, on Thursday, 2nd March 2017, on behalf of the Coalition party members and somewhat against other Coalition members, begs one to question the wisdom of the Coalition government’s retention of that portfolio of a coalition spokesperson; after taking charge of the governance of the country, with a Minister for Communications and Information, as well as a Press Officer at the Office of the President. Much more, having a spokesperson for the coalition, who also doubles as the leader of one of its member parties, to be the impartial messenger to inform or clarify Coalition internal disputes to the press.

Halifa’s press conference, which he described as intended to clarify Coalition’s position on the upcoming parliamentary elections, had created much confusion, rancour and acrimony within the Coalition’s support base, that one could be forgiven for connoting other motives than just the mere clarifications claimed! It left many to blame other Coalition party members, i.e the UDP and NRP. Leaving their supporters despondent and cried foul play by Halifa’s depiction of their party’s position in the Coalition’s approach to the upcoming parliamentary elections. This has compelled many of these parties’ supporters to demand a response or clarification from their parties in response to Halifa’s supposed clarifications.

Quite simply, they felt betrayed by Mr. Sallah, who failed to realise that by being a Coalition spokesperson, he also doubles as a spokesperson for both the UDP and NRP. The veteran politician, quite simply could not remove his feet from the PDOIS shoes, to become an impartial representative or spokesperson for all the political parties to the Coalition. Consequently, he appeared to have represented the Coalition’s position, on the upcoming parliamentary elections, from the perspective of his party, PDOIS, vantage, rather than from the vantage of all parties in the coalition.

This left many to perceive divisions within the Coalition, agitating them to level blames, vilifications, etc, at their perceived instigators of the disintegration. These compelled the disaffected parties to react to the criticism from their perceived nemesis. Such an uproar ought not to have ensued as the reactions to the venerable spokesperson’s clarifications, had he done a good job at representing the whole coalition and not just one side of the story.

The venerable spokesperson would have also done a marvellous job had he de-escalated the rethoric from what he presented as fracas, had he mellowed it to a differing of opinions, or from what he presented as good and bad or right and wrong to alternative models or suggestions to the Coalition’s best chances of securing more seats in the National Assembly.

But the venerable spokesperson could not simplify the issues to less sophistication, leaving the Coalition’s supporters in a rumble. Simply because it would appear that the venerable spokesperson was out to sell his and his party’s agenda, which he explained quite eloquently, as the model adopted at the selection process of the presidential elections. That is for a Coalition backed independent National Assembly members. However, the alternative model advocated by UDP and NRP was not explained in much detail, except that “two parties within the Coalition gave reservations” to their model.

This lack of detail of the two competing models had left many to draw their own conclusions, that the UDP wants to opt out of the Coalition, because of their perception of being the majority party, or that Darboe wants everything for himself, etc. The most heartless of all even opined that UDP leader’s freedom was a detriment to the Coalition’s progress and that of the country.

It’s disheartening to note that such an rancour or acrimony could ensued, as a result of the clarification of a spokesperson for the Coalition. This ought not to have happened had the spokesperson done a fair job for all the Coalition members.

Simply because it is not wrong for a party or parties in a Coalition to have a differing opinion or model or suggestion, about how the Coalition should contest a Parliamentary election. That quite simply ought to be expected. But when that message is twisted to give the impression that some parties in a Coalition, are interested in just their personal or party interests rather than the collective interest, such could give rise to unintended consequences.

The issue, is quite simply about two competing models of how the Coalition should contest the upcoming parliamentary elections. One advocated by the PDOIS and rest, whilst the other by the UDP and NRP. There is nothing wrong about either side subscribing to a different model. The only problem however seems to be how that was presented to the country by the spokesperson, which resulted in the real fracas.

This leads me to the question of my title, does the Coalition really need a spokesperson? I doubt very much that the Coalition do at present and furthermore I would disagree vehemently that that position continues to suit Halifa Sallah. I believe, if the Coalition requires a spokesperson, that position will now suit a person who will be neutral and can represent the position of all parties in the Coalition impartially, without fear or favour for any. Otherwise, I believe the President or his spokesperson should be ideal to speak for the Coalition as a government. Therefore, in the ensuing confusion after the Coalition’s spokesperson’s press conference, we need the President to come and settle the dust for us.


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