Alagi Yorro Jallow

(JollofNews) – In today’s highly charged political atmosphere, with so much attention focused on our disagreements, it’s easy to lose sight of Gambia’s’ shared values. One of those is our belief that free speech means everyone’s voice should be heard and that every eligible voter should participate in elections that are fair, secure, and accessible, with every vote counted as cast.

The principle of one person, one vote – that every person’s vote should have equal weight is the foundation of our democracy!! It means legislative districts need to be divided according to population, so that each person (and each interest) has an equal amount of representation in parliament. Such high-minded aspiration is undermined by blatant gerrymandering, which manipulates the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) to favor one party or class, create partisan advantaged districts.

The intended result of partisan gerrymandering is misrepresentation of the public. The party controlling the redistricting artificially inflates the number of seats it gets. In some cases, this distortion of representation is so gross that it allows a party that gets a minority of the votes to win most the seats – a clear violation of the basic principles of democracy and majority rule.

For example, in five electoral constituency in Foni in the West Coast administrative region with a total voter population of 33,803 has five parliamentarians and in Kombo South administrative area with a total voter population of 45,152 has one parliamentarian, Bussumbala constituency voter population of 36,602 and Sere Kunda West in the Kanifing administrative area with 46,502 population each had only one representative. Banjul Administrative area with a voter population of 22,731 has three parliamentarians. How can Banjul Administrative area and Foni administrative have more representatives than more densely populated constituencies.

Gerrymandering is a form of political subterfuge. It stifles real political debate and deprives citizens of meaningful choices: Proportional representation is the principle that a legislature reflects all the voters who elect them. Like-minded voters should be able to elect representatives in proportion to their number.

Replacing the current winner-takes-all parliamentary elections with a form of proportional representation would create a legislature that better represents the population, while virtually eliminating gerrymandering.

Voting to “win elections” works in a democracy, but unfortunately Banjul Administrative area and in the Foni and some parts of the the West Coast Administrative areas is not fair representative democracy. It is a “gerrymockeracy” because gerrymandering makes a mockery of the principle of “one person, one vote.”

Gerrymandering eliminated the vote of almost half the voters. The other half played with a stacked deck: The party that drew the legislative districts won disproportionate representation.

We cannot “win” elections and “do something about the wrongs” we perceive until gerrymandering is eliminated. Let’s tell our legislators!

Gerrymandering is the process through which legislative districts are crafted by sorting and grouping voters in ways that advantage or weaken one political party over the other…. And it’s because of gerrymandering that major cities have not enjoyed much political clout within the nation.

It has become painfully clear in recent years that partisan gerrymandering is one of the worst illnesses of democracy in The Gambia. Although the purpose of redistricting was to ensure “fair and effective representation for all citizens,” legislators often use the process to lock the minority party out of power.

Politicians deploy partisan gerrymandering to make it harder for their opponents win elections, thus creating one-party rule and, arguably, greater polarization. That’s bad for the body politic and a clear contravention of the spirit of the Constitution. Unless we have electoral reform, gerrymandering will continue to plague the country.

We must demand electoral reform to change the single plurality, “winner take all” “first past the post” electoral systems, structured within single-member districts (which is exactly what we have) that is susceptible to gerrymandering. This is a well-established principle in political science.

Conversely, double-ballot majority system with proportional representation favors a multi-party system.

This is no simple task, but we must demand electoral reform. Without it, I fear our democracy will corrupt itself.

By Alagi Yorro Jallow 

The author is founder and former managing editor of The Independent, the Gambia’s only private newspaper before it was banned by the government in 2005. He was a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, a 2007 Nieman fellow and is the author of Delayed Democracy: How Press Freedom Collapsed in Gambia published in 2013.