Gambia elects MPs for post-Jammeh era

2017-04-06 22:09
Yahya Jammeh (File: AFP)

Yahya Jammeh (File: AFP)

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Bakau - Gambians voted on Thursday in the first ballot since longtime leader Yahya Jammeh left power, electing lawmakers who could make or break a raft of reforms promised by the new president.

More than 880 000 Gambians were eligible to vote before polls close at 17:00, with many relishing the chance to express their opinion after 22 years under Jammeh, though turnout was reportedly low.

"The only way Gambians can consolidate our newfound democracy is for people to ensure they elect competent individuals that will represent them in parliament and help in making the government's reform agenda a reality," said Fatou Suwareh, who was waiting in line to vote on the outskirts of Banjul.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) expressed concern around midday however that fewer voters than expected had appeared.

"We just hope that the voter turnout increases," said Manneh Sallah, vice-chairperson of the electoral commission, while EU observer Maria Arena, from Belgium, told AFP that after a busy start "turnout is a little low".

Many Jammeh supporters however were expected to stay at home as his Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) recovers from its shock loss in December's presidential vote.

Thursday's election is a key test for several former opposition parties that united to form a coalition to oust Jammeh from power and deliver flag bearer Adama Barrow to victory as the new president.

Internal tensions mean those parties are not running together in the legislative elections, and Barrow's promised overhaul of every aspect of the Gambian state will depend on their willingness to cooperate in parliament and in cabinet.

Posing a threat is the Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC), a youth-led party which did not join the governing coalition and whose leader Mama Kandeh came third in last year's presidential vote.

Barrow defends cabinet 

Some voters expressed anger that the coalition parties had not been able to present a united front.

"The coalition was my party but when things started falling apart with them, everyone has to go to their party," said Yaisa Jawara, who chose the GDC as a protest vote.

"They (GDC) are not very experienced but they are willing to work with the government," she added, casting her vote at a roadside polling station near the capital, Banjul.

Barrow attempted to shrug off accusations that his coalition was permanently damaged by infighting which at times has broken out into the open in Gambian media.

"There is no (cabinet) split, this is about democracy and this is the new Gambia," he said after casting his vote.

Barrow was formerly a member of the United Democratic Party (UDP), a movement which has waited many years for the chance to take some of the 53 seats up for grabs in The Gambia's National Assembly.

Five extra places are appointed by the president, for a total of 58 seats in the legislative chamber, which was long derided as a rubber stamp for Jammeh's executive orders.

The UDP's activists were routinely imprisoned and abused by Jammeh's security forces, and its leader Ousainou Darboe is seen in some quarters as a divisive figure with decades of political baggage in a country looking for a fresh start.

There is no formal opinion polling in the small west African nation, making it difficult to establish voting intentions, but the APRC was only able to muster candidates in just over half the country's constituencies, meaning they cannot obtain the near-total majority achieved in past elections.

Despite this, Fabakary Tombong Jatta, the new leader of the APRC, said he was confident of their chances with Barrow apparently stumbling.

"Government came with a slogan 'Gambia has decided' but assessing their hundred days in office, it is full of failures in all domains," he said.

"Most people who were coalition supporters have now realised that the APRC has brought unprecedented development in the country," Tombong Jatta added.

Roll of the marble 

The African Union, the regional bloc Ecowas and the European Union have all sent observers to monitor voters casting their ballots in The Gambia's unique system, where marbles are dropped into coloured metal barrels representing different candidates.

West African troops remain in The Gambia three months after Jammeh's departure, and will stay until Barrow is satisfied that reforms of the security service have removed rogue elements.

Read more on:    yahya jammeh  |  adama barrow  |  gambia  |  west africa

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