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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Gambians vote in legislative elections to consolidate democracy


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Gambians are voting for lawmakers in legislative elections that should consolidate a young democracy and may see President Adama Barrow strengthen his power after winning re-election last year.

Voters in the West African state on Saturday will renew the unicameral National Assembly’s 58 seats for a five-year term.

The single-round vote will help to choose 53 lawmakers, while Barrow — serving a second five-year term after last December’s electoral victory — will name the five others, including the parliament’s president.

Polling stations opened at 8:00 am (0800 GMT) and closes at 5:00 pm. Campaigning concluded on Thursday evening and results are expected on Sunday.

Masona Jatta, a cashier at a polling unit in Banjul expressed the need for change. “Yes, we need change. Because the way Gambia is going is not promising at all, it’s not promising. So we need a thorough change in the house of the assembly so that the Constitution can be amended. We need a new draft Constitution, because the 1997 draft constitution is the worst constitution ever.” Jatta said.

Voting for a new constitution — seen as essential by The Gambia’s international partners to strengthen its democracy and limit the president’s powers — will be a key task for the new legislature.

Barrow’s unexpected victory against now-exiled dictator Yahya Jammeh in country’s 2016 presidential vote ended a 20-year regime marred by state atrocities, from assassinations and forced disappearances to rape and torture.

He promised to introduce constitutional change by the end of his term, but in September 2020 the outgoing parliament rejected a draft constitution limiting the president to two terms.

“The country cannot move without laws” saysBinta Janneh Jallow, a businesswoman in Banjul. “Gambia, we are good in law-making but to implement is the problem. We have seen that all the laws are there. They are just there, they are just dumped there, and they are not enforcing them.” Janneh stressed as she cast her vote.

Barrow’s supporters opposed the retroactive nature of the provision, which would have prevented the head of state from running again in 2026.

The president’s National People’s Party, created in 2020 after the break-up of the coalition that brought Barrow to power, is pushing for a parliamentary majority.

The United Democratic Party, the opposition formation which dominates the current chamber, is led by Ousainou Darboe, an unsuccessful challenger to Barrow in last December’s presidential election.

The opposition and a civil society official have accused Barrow of illegally supporting his party’s candidates by using state resources during a national campaign tour. The tour was officially aimed at sounding out the public’s needs.

An English-speaking enclave of two million people surrounded by Senegal, The Gambia is continental Africa’s smallest country. It is among the world’s 20 least developed states, according to the United Nations.

The country’s unique voting system sees voters place a marble into a short pipe that feeds into a canister bearing the colours and a picture of each candidate — a method introduced due to a high illiteracy rate.

Credit: Africanews