Halifa Sallah says that is not common sense
By Lamin Jahateh
The lawyer representing the ruling APRC party in the election petition filed at the Supreme Court has said the inauguration of President-elect Adama Barrow, due on the 19th January, should wait until the petition is determined.
But the spokesperson of Mr Barrow’s coalition, Halifa Sallah, said this is neither in line with law nor common sense for a losing party – the Alliance for Patriotic, Reorientation and Construction (APRC) – to have such right.
The APRC counsel, Lawyer Edward Gomez, said: “The inauguration should wait until the due process of the law takes place.”
Speaking to journalists yesterday shortly after Chief Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle adjourned the petition case to Monday, 16 January, Lawyer Gomez said while the case is being determined “the status quo remains”.
A private legal practitioner and a member of the Gambia Bar Association who does not want to be named said when the election petition is not finally determined until 19th January, then the inauguration of Mr Barrow should be done, according to law.
However, the APRC lawyer said everybody is entitled to his opinion, saying: “Our opinion is that we have a substantive matter in court and it ought to be heard according to the right of the petitioner according to law and the constitution.”
“There is a pending issue; it ought to be heard. There is a rule of law that everybody is entitled to a fair hearing,” he said, adding that he would advise his client, the APRC “to proceed with their legal rights to the fullest”.
Meanwhile, Mr Sallah of the coalition that won the 1st December presidential election said it is neither in line with law nor common sense for a loser to have the right to abrogate or suspend the right of the victor (the winning party) until an election petition is determined.
“The right of a victor to be sworn in as president and the duty of the incumbent to leave office at the end of his term are not invalidated by filling an election petition,” Mr Sallah said when responding to an FPI question at a press conference on Wednesday.
“The office of President-elect Barrow has made it absolutely clear that the exercise of the right to file an election petition by the loser does not deprive the winner of the right to prepare for inauguration as president of republic on 19 January 2017.”
Mr Sallah said the 1997 Constitution states that the person declared elected as president shall take the prescribed oath and assumed office on the day of the term of office of the incumbent president expires.
“I think this is very clear. I think there is no possibility of distortion,” he affirmed.
He pointed out that the Office of President-elect stands by the principle that Adama Barrow’s election as the president of The Gambia stands.
Prepare for inauguration
In this vein, Mr Sallah called on the general public to prepare for the inauguration of the president-elect on 19 January.
“The status of an election petition should be regarded as a peripheral issue and should therefore not hamper any preparation for the inauguration,” he said.
Incumbent president Yahya Jammeh, who ruled The Gambia for 22 years, lost the election to Mr Barrow, who leads a coalition of eight opposition parties.
Jammeh’s ruling APRC party has since filed a petition challenging the result at the Supreme Court, the highest law court of the land.
In the petition, filed on the 13th December, the APRC is praying that the court declares the election void and the results, invalid.
The party argues in the petition that the electoral commission did not conduct the election in good faith.
The petition case was first heard on 21st December at the Supreme Court but it could not continue as the court did not have enough judges to constitute a panel to hear the case.
The Gambia’s Nigerian Chief Justice who serves as the head of the Supreme Court panel was the only one available for the petition.
Petition cannot be determined
After adjourning the case to 10 January, Chief Justice Fagbenle said five more judges were hired from Nigeria and one from Sierra Leone.
These judges were expected in Banjul early this January to be sworn and start work in earnest.
But at yesterday’s hearing, Justice Fagbenle said he had received letters from the chief justices of Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
He said in the letters, the chief justices said they are used to the normal sittings of the Supreme Court of The Gambia and that is in May and November, not December. As a result, their judges are scheduled for The Gambia May and November.
Justice Fagbenle said in the absence of these judges, the APRC’s election petition cannot be determined because it can only be determined by the full panel of the Supreme Court and that is five or seven judges.