With Dictator Jammeh Gone, Gambians Choose New Parliament

  • Legislative vote seen cementing transition to democracy
  • Discord over candidates shows cracks in president’s coalition

Gambians choose a new parliament Thursday in a vote that will likely give new authority to an assembly that was dominated for more than two decades by Yahya Jammeh, the former dictator ousted by West African troops in January.

The vote will see 239 candidates from political parties that include the United Democratic Party led by President Adama Barrow, vying for 53 seats in the nation’s national assembly.

Gambian President Adama Barrow

(AP Photo/ Sylvain Cherkaoui)

“These first elections post-Jammeh will cement the country’s democratic transition,” Adeline Van Houtte, a political analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London, said in emailed comments. The vote “is crucial to provide the checks and balances that the country lacked for more than two decades and increase governmental and political accountability.”

In a surprise win, Barrow defeated Jammeh in presidential elections in December with the support of seven political parties that had rallied behind him amid growing discontent with the former leader’s repressive regime. While Jammeh ruled mainly by decree and expected parliament to rubber-stamp those bills he chose to submit for approval, Barrow will need a two-thirds majority in parliament to carry out his economic development plans.

Facing Obstacles

“Barrow is going to face obstacles to reform in the case of a fragmented legislature, which will slow down policy making and decrease his popularity ahead of the next elections,” Van Houtte said.

For the legislative vote, the coalition partners weren’t able to agree on a unified list of candidates and their pact is looking increasingly fractured. That prompted Barrow, 52, to embark on a nationwide tour to mobilize voters and tell them that the coalition remained intact despite its differences.

Gambia is isolated by its geographical location as an English-speaking sliver of a country surrounded by French-speaking Senegal and the Atlantic Ocean.

Jammeh was forced to leave the country at the beginning of the year after losing the presidential election as West African leaders threatened to intervene militarily when he refused to acknowledge his defeat. He is now living in exile in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea. His APRC party, which doesn’t have a new leader, has put 29 candidates forward for the vote.

The European Union sent observers to monitor the vote in what the bloc said was the first time it deployed a mission to Gambia. Preliminary results will probably be announced from Friday, according to the electoral commission.

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