by Alagi Yoro Jallow
Mahatma Gandhi had once said, to judge how civilized a nation is, just look at how it treats its own minorities. Going by this yardstick, The Gambia does not make a passing grade since independence.
In most countries, minorities suffer from so-called “horizontal inequality.” While on paper they may enjoy legal equality, in real life, the playing field remains uneven. The Gambia is no different.
It’s worth remembering that Proportional Representation is a key enabler of minorities in politics especially women and Christians whose representation fell too short in elective office since Independence.
Political scientists have agreed for years that PR systems lead to more equal gender representation as well as minority representation in parliaments, and a series of studies by political scientists have shown that more women have usually been elected under PR systems than majoritarian systems (Norris, 1985; Matland, 1998; Reynolds, 1999; Kenworthy and Malami, 1999; Siaroff, 2000; Moser, 2001; Salmond 2006
One reason why the issue of minority rights is not on the political radar screen of the government is the absence of their political voice. In most countries, the Parliament is the venue where a nation's political agenda is discussed and adopted. Giving Christians, women and other minorities a stronger voice in our Parliament could help put the spotlight on the status of minorities.
A wise man, suggested that Christians and women should demand their proportional representation in Parliament. Many countries have it, why can't we have the same? (To be perfectly clear, Some Asian countries reserved seats for minorities, not proportional representation per se). A similar demand has been made Asia Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians, which has called for allocating seats for religious minorities.
The idea of proportional representation has also been embraced by many scholars. Dr. Nazrul Islam, a Bangladeshi economist now working with the United Nations, in his new book, Governance for Development (Palgrave Mcmillan, New York 2016), has argued vociferously on why countries should consider switching to proportional election. Among other things, such an electoral arrangement will enable minority groups to be represented in accordance with their numerical strength, rendering the legislature to be more inclusive. “They can pursue their interests and demands more freely and directly, without having to depend on bigger parties.” As a result, he concludes, proportional election could encourage smaller parties and groups to channel their grievances through the Parliament, rather than through extra-parliamentary means.
Reserve seats or proportional representation, whatever the course may be, the time has come to consider ways to ensure that The Gambia’s minorities have a voice on matters that matter most to them. Parliament could be the place where this could have its most logical beginning.