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The debate over the third term limit is a premature distraction; the 3rd term limit for President Barrow is a moral, rather than a legal, issue

The debate over a third term is not a legal but a moral issue for President Adama Barrow and his supporters, representing a matter of considerable importance. Currently, a discussion is emerging that not only shifts focus from the essential questions posed by a segment of the Gambian population but also echoes the apprehensions of the opposition, civil society activists, and those perceived as detractors of the government’s endeavors, often labeled as ‘fifth columnists.’ This debate centers on the possibility of President Adama Barrow and his supporters seeking a third term in the 2026 presidential elections.

The issue of presidential term limits in The Gambia is complex, encompassing both legal and moral dimensions. Legally, the 1997 constitution does not establish a two-term limit for the presidency. This absence of limits can lead to diverse interpretations and potential manipulations, as the term limit was a point of contention during electoral campaigns. For example, President Barrow might contend that the Gambian constitution does not enforce a term limit since his predecessor, Yahya Jammeh, eliminated it, thereby extending his presidential tenure. This resulted in former President Jammeh remaining in power for twenty-two years, even seeking a lifetime presidency, despite constitutional constraints.

Morally, term limits are often linked to good governance, transparency, anti-corruption efforts, peace, prosperity, and development. They are viewed as a safeguard against political crises and a means to ensure a robust democratic process through regular transitions of power. However, bypassing term limits, which is associated with governance decline, can have significant implications for a nation’s security and development, highlighting the seriousness of the matter.

Discussing a third term for President Adama Barrow is premature at this point. Adama Barrow, who is still in office, is considering whether to pursue a third term. This issue transcends constitutional or legal concerns and enters the realm of morality. Elected in 2017 through a grand coalition, Adama Barrow’s campaign promised Gambians a return to term limits, a provision removed from the 1997 constitution by former President Yahya Jammeh to maintain power indefinitely. Morally, the principle that no one should serve more than one or two terms is clear, but legally, the 1997 constitution does not prevent Adama Barrow from seeking another term. The debate over a third term, which arguably should not exist, is perpetuated by those who thrive on political tension and career politicians addicted to power.

Propaganda engineering, the strategic manipulation of information to influence public opinion, is increasingly challenging in this era of information. Maintaining narratives becomes difficult when anyone with an internet connection can create and spread propaganda, or when adversaries can quickly debunk new claims, forcing a return to the drawing board for those crafting the messages. In other democracies, the periods of election terms or mandates are typically established and not subject to debate or speculation; an electoral calendar provides certainty in the election process and facilitates long-term planning by the electoral commission and all stakeholders. Such certainty in the election calendar is essential to align the Gambia’s democratic system with international best practices.

Let’s clarify this: if an incumbent candidate pledges to serve a single or two term and later retracts that promise, they have not broken any laws or committed legal infractions; at most, they have raised moral questions. However, our Constitution and Independent Electoral Commission dictate that elections are governed by laws, not moral standards. So, what’s the uproar about Adama Barrow’s pledge regarding a third term or term limits? If he has reconsidered, it’s his prerogative. Even God, according to holy scriptures, has changed His mind. Therefore, cast your vote for or against him and let us maintain peace.

Debates of this nature could lead to severe consequences, including political instability, social unrest, and economic decline. Gambians should recall their nation’s democratic traditions and political history, which were disrupted by the authoritarian rule of Yahya Jammeh. The Gambia’s recent political narrative has shown how its people have confronted over two decades of self-imposed rule by Jammeh. These events are not merely historical records; they are lessons that must be heeded and honored. Should Adama Barrow follow in Yahya Jammeh’s footsteps, Gambians may face a repeat of past adversities, with grave implications. It is imperative to cherish and safeguard our democratic principles and to draw wisdom from our history for a brighter future.

However, the primary concern for Gambians should not be the speculation over a potential third term. The link between this third-term debate and democracy should be seen as a quest for formal answers to the questions posed by the citizens themselves.

Politicians often become entangled in electoral debates, neglecting the pressing issues at hand. The true urgency, however, lies in addressing public sector corruption, enhancing living standards, reducing the cost of essential goods, tackling climate change, and fostering sustainable development. Since 2017, we have experienced a prolonged period of stagnation, and it is crucial that we formulate strategies to decisively overcome these socio-economic challenges, relieve poverty, tackle youth unemployment, and support women’s empowerment. The significance of these matters is paramount, and it is vital that we begin to address them without delay, to prevent further degradation of our society. We must grasp the immediacy of these issues and act swiftly to resolve them.

Yet, to sidestep intricate debates, politicians often concentrate on institutional questions and the division of the rules of the game. It is overlooked that in the Gambia, democratic principles have been in place for over two centuries. Thus, it is no longer feasible to discuss the rules after such a long history of democracy. Politicians should advocate for the definitive resolution of independent institutional matters, allowing for an assessment based on competencies in areas like the economy, national security, education, and higher education, rather than on rule participation. A shift in focus is necessary, one that turns towards the real issues impacting the lives of Gambians. We must resolve to direct our political dialogue towards these ends.

Recent events in the Gambia have shown Adama Barrow’s regime circumventing or downplaying term limit restrictions, despite the 2020 draft constitution’s inclusion of a term limit clause that aimed to reinforce such limits, signaling a commitment to democratic values and offering hope for the future. In summary, although term limits are legally recognized in numerous African constitutions, their enforcement and adherence hinge on moral integrity and political determination. It is imperative for political leaders to honor the people’s will and enforce the law, mirroring the wider governance challenges faced across the continent.

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