A man waves a Gambian flag as he celebrates the victory of Gambia’s opposition candidate Adama Barrow during the Presidential Elections on December 2, 2016, in Serekunda, Banjul. The impoverished west African nation of Gambia is set for a rare handover of power after long-serving President Yahya Jammeh suffered a shock defeat at the polls. Rights bodies and media watchdogs accuse Jammeh of cultivating a “pervasive climate of fear” during his 22 years in office and of crushing dissent against his regime. (Photo credit MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)

In the world of politics, the word principle is used interchangeably with Ideology. Macmillan English Dictionary defines Ideology as “a system of ideas and ideals on which a political or economic theory and policy are based.” 

Political parties are the vehicles through which ideologies are propagated. Each party is expected to have an ideology that defines it and acts as a reference point. 

Ideology is, therefore, what a compass is to the intrepid traveler. It provides the true north that sets out the right direction by which political parties travel.

A wannabe careerist politician without purpose, political opportunists, a political flip-flop, and a social media hailer and wailer on every echo-chamber, on social media with an endless Facebook live-streaming, a woman who crossed the floor in every political season and every election cycle. 

A woman of the moment, jumped onto the stage at the buffer zone modified political rally in Tallinding Kunjang for the occasion of renewing allegiance and endorsement one of the political godfathers for political favours and patronage in anticipation of the coming General elections for possible nomination or appointment time to eat. 

Amid the adulating cheers of the mammoth crowd, she joined a troupe of gyrating dancers. Mood music blared from the Kora Maestro Jaliba Kuyateh and massive speakers providing entertainment that came to a sudden cataclysmic halt. 

Then the woman Fatoumatta took up the microphone. Expertly, she began to work for the crowd, extolling her virtues and those of her political party. Gathering momentum, she hurled invectives at her perceived enemies from opposing parties. 

As she got to the climax of her diatribe, it was lost on the gathering, that only months earlier, Fatoumatta had been a leading light in the political party she was disparaging. 

Moreover, for the few that could see through her duplicity, there was always recourse to plausible deniability to mask her deceitful acts.

The Fatoumatta described above represents scenarios that unfold unerringly every political season and election cycle in the Gambia. Politicians on the campaign trail make promises that are seldom kept. 

The electorate swallows these promises hook, line, and sinker. There are hardly any accountability structures or yardsticks by which the political class can be rated. 

Prevarication, it seems, is an acceptable standard. Even tools, like the recalling of elected officials, are not used despite constitutional provisions for them. Welcome to the world of politics without principle.

The American political system exemplifies the role of Ideology in political parties. Democrats and Republicans, typify different principles. Democrats believe in the greater involvement of the government in social affairs. They believe in the separation of church and state. 

Liberals also stand for the expansion of personal freedoms, including gay rights and affirmative action. They have excellent traction among the lower social classes of American society, particularly immigrants. 

Republicans, on the other hand, are the capitalists. They believe the government should be less involved in American life. For them, the individual determines his or her pathway to success. Republicans favour less taxation and bigger spending on the military. 

Also known as Conservatives, they believe in God is central to American life. They draw their numbers mainly from white Anglo Saxons.

American presidents have been from both Democrats and Republicans. Election campaigns are not hinged predominantly on personalities but rather on the solutions that each party proposes to resolve the times. 

President Obama came to power when the American economy was in decline. Because democrats are renowned for fixing budgetary deficits, he proved true to type by bringing about economic growth. 

He also introduced Obamacare, a universal health coverage plan for Americans. 

President Donald Trump is a Republican. He came into power on the strength of white fears of an overrun by migrants. He is a proponent of increased military spending and is equivocal on gun control laws in keeping with Republicans who control weapons manufacturing. 

For him, the pathway to an egalitarian society is through individual hard work and not state subsidies. To that end, he has tried to repeal Obamacare in favour of private health insurance.

Political parties in the Gambia are numerous now. Most of them are not sentient to the needs of those they purport to represent. If anything, they are brief-case outfits formed to serve the nefarious agendas of their creators. 

Without an enduring ideology, many fold up usually within a single election cycle. There are big and small political parties that are a good thing in a functioning democracy. 

Some of the political parties have been formed by collapsing of several small parties. Big and small old and new parties have recently come up with manifestos in an attempt at continuity. 

This should help develop their distinct ideologies so that with time, it may be possible to define each by what they stand for.

President Adama Barrow, his new political party, the National People’s Party( NPP)  and other opposition parties may highly likely formed an Alliance and have resolved to work together. 

There are fears that other political leaders may join the government and thus cause the demise of a grand fruit Salad Coalition type of 2016 that united all opposition against incumbent President Yahya Jammeh. 

Were that to happen, the real tragedy would be in the fact that the Gambia’s opposition politics is resident in an individual and not in an enduring institution. Time has come to define party ideologies. 

Parties are meant to hold alternative ideas of governance. Ideally, opposition parties are governments in waiting to offer alternatives to the party’s failings in power. They should not be treated like guerrilla movements to be eschewed or pulverized into submission. 

Conversely, opposition parties should not behave like anarchists hell-bent on sabotaging the efforts of the government of the day. That is a good starting place for politics with the principle.

By Alagi Yorro Jallow

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