The achievement of the country’s independence was not enough for the PPP and its leadership. The party’s next goal was not only to bring the image Gambia to the international sphere as a friendly, democratic and prosperous country with high respect for human rights and justice, but to also complete the process of self-governance by establishing the country as a constitutional republic. The first referendum for republicanism was defeated on 24 November 1965. However, the relentless PPP leadership took another shot at the proposal in 1969.
On May 13, 1969, the PPP National Executive Committee passed a resolution to mandate the government to make the issue of republicanism a national priority and to set up a referendum prior to the next general election. The cabinet took on the proposal and refined it for a constitutional amendment. But, while the cabinet worked tirelessly on the resolution, the opposition parties, including United Party campaigned against it and spreading fear among the populous about the fictitious danger republicanism would bring to the country. They claimed that republicanism will bring one-party system and a dictatorship to the Gambia.
The PPP shifted gear and took the message of the benefits of becoming a republic directly to the people. The party leadership left no corner of the country unthreaded. They campaign vigorously to counter the opposition’s claimed and to assure Gambian people of the enormous benefits of republicanism. In December of 1969, the House finalized the details of the constitutional amendment and voted 27 to 5 and passed the bill to take the Gambia to full republican constitution.
The content of the draft constitution was as follows:
- Upholds the dignity of the Gambian people and uphold his or her civil and human rights
- Guarantee fundamental rights:
- Freedom of worship
- Freedom of association
- Freedom of movement
- Freedom of expression
- Separates powers of the three branches of the government
- Executive, judicial and legislative
- Executive branch answerable to the parliament and the courts
- Parliament could not remove judges for misconduct
- Parliament misconduct must be tested in the courts
- The President reserve the right to dissolve the parliament and send its members back to the electorate
- Provides checks and balances to prevent abuse of power through immunity
- Impeachment proceedings will be invoked if the President is accused of abuse of the constitution or found guilty of misconduct
- It protects the nation’s finances to prevent corruption
- Ensures power was not concentrated in the hands of one person
- Enshrines supremacy of rule of law and protect citizens from abuse
- Ensures ultimate power rests in the hands of the people of the Gambia
The PPP’s campaign for the referendum and against the myth UP was spreading, bear fruit as the influx of UP members began to defect to the PPP. The defectors included Burang John, a fierce PPP opponent, MC Cham, Momodou C Jallow, and Momodou Musa Njie, UP’s biggest financier. The PPP also welcome back the former PPP gladiator, Pa Sanjally Bojang.
In April 1970, the people went to the polls to vote on the referendum. By the end of that misty April night, the people of the Gambia sent a resounding victory for the PPP and the Gambian nation. The results from the election were 84,964 votes for the referendum, to 35, 638 votes against. The parliament enacted the resolution to the law, and on April 24, 1970, Chief Justice Phillip Bridges declared the Gambia a sovereign republic. Sir Dawda Jawara took the oath of office and became the first president of the Republic of the Gambia completing yet another milestone for the PPP. Following the 1970 referendum victory, the PPP government won all the five (1972, 1977, 1982, 1987 and 1992) general and presidential elections until the AFPRC’s unconstitutional overthrow of the elected government in 1994.