Gambian lawmakers reject draft constitution

Gambia's President-elect Adama Barrow posing in his office in Serekunda on December 11, 2016. Senegalese President Macky Sall accepted a request to host Barrow in Dakar. PHOTO | AFP

What you need to know:

  • The new constitution in the making is set to replace the 1997 constitution, enacted by former President Yahya Jammeh, which pro-democracy campaigners say set the basis for his 21-year tyrannical rule.

There was an outpouring of anger and consternation on Tuesday after Gambia’s parliament voted to reject a draft constitution, setting back progress on over two years of work.

The new constitution in the making is set to replace the 1997 constitution, enacted by former President Yahya Jammeh, which pro-democracy campaigners say set the basis for his 21-year tyrannical rule.

Opposition to the draft constitution has been fuelled by a number of contentious provisions. But the major one is a provision that makes the constitution retroactive.

The document, for the first time, introduces a presidential term limit in Africa’s smallest mainland nation. But President Adama Barrow’s supporters say his first five years in office, which end in 2021 -- an election year -- shouldn’t be counted.

After a marathon debate that continued into the night on Monday, the House voted 31-42.

The move meant that there is not enough vote for it to go for Third Reading, ahead of a planned referendum early next year.

With Monday’s outcome, the document will now be sent back to a parliamentary select committee for review.

Supporters of the document in its current form fear that it could be watered down.

The move by Parliament has also raised fears, particularly among pro-democracy campaigners, that Barrow is gliding closer to attaining the posture of his predecessor.

Barrow came to power in a watershed election that saw the removal of a two-decade long tyranny. He notably won the seat on the ticket of a coalition of opposition political parties.

He has since parted ways with major players in that coalition, especially his former party –- the United Democratic Party (UDP).

Many of those who were disappointed with Monday’s vote were UDP supporters.

Interestingly, Barrow had the support of lawmakers from Jammeh’s party, the APRC, among other smaller parties whose leaders are still allied to him.

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