AD338: The Gambia’s draft Constitution reflects citizens’ preference for term limits, gender quota

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Dispatches
2020
338
Thomas Isbell and Sait Matty Jaw

In December 2017, the National Assembly of the Gambia established a Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) to draft the country’s third Constitution (Freedom Newspaper, 2018).
The Gambia’s founding Constitution (1970) was replaced in 1997, three years after a military coup led by Yahya Jammeh. For more than two decades, Jammeh and his Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) dominated the Gambia’s political landscape, often using constitutional amendments to manipulate the political process “with largely anti-human rights and undemocratic provisions” (Nabaneh, 2018). For instance, presidential term limits were removed to enable Jammeh to run for re-election (Jobarteh, 2018), and in 2001 the electoral system was changed to require only a plurality, rather than an absolute majority, to win a presidential election. In 2016, seven opposition parties and an independent presidential candidate united under Coalition 2016 to defeat Jammeh.

The CRC is part of an extensive transitional-justice process instituted by President Adama Barrow, aimed at addressing past injustices and building a stable democratic future. According to prominent human-rights activist Madi Jobarteh (2018), “Both the current government and citizens appear to agree that, given the numerous amendments to the Constitution and the several undemocratic provisions, the need for a new Constitution cannot be over-emphasized.”

After soliciting input from Gambians both at home and abroad, the 11-member CRC in November 2019 released its first draft of the new Constitution and invited the public to provide comments on the draft (Jawo, 2019).

In its national survey in Gambia in mid-2018, Afrobarometer asked citizens for their views on a number of possible constitutional changes. Based on survey findings, the draft Constitution largely aligns with citizens’ preferences on these issues, including popular support for presidential term limits, a quota system for women’s representation in the National Assembly, and political independence for members of the national electoral commission.