Gambia Votes Counted as New Leader Seeks Backing for Reforms

  • Legislative vote seen cementing transition to democracy
  • Former dictator Jammeh’s party participating in vote

Officials in Gambia started counting ballot papers after Thursday’s parliamentary polls in a vote that will be crucial for the new government’s ability to implement reforms following two decades of rule by Yahya Jammeh, the former dictator ousted by West African neighbors in January.

President Adama 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.

“Here is golden chance to start a new page. Our best hope is to inscribe not only a new Gambia, but also a democratic Gambia,” Momodou Sowe, 37, who returned from exile after Barrow’s inauguration, said after voting in Serrekunda, 13 kilometers (8 miles) southwest of the capital, Banjul. “Gambians will decide whether or not to repeat what happened under Jammeh.”

Polls closed at 5 p.m. local time and results are expected to be announced from Friday, according to the electoral commission.

Candidate Lists

The vote saw 239 candidates from political parties that included Barrow’s United Democratic Party, vying for 48 seats in the nation’s national assembly while the president will appoint another five members.

“The legislative election will cement the country’s democratic transition, and its outcome will be crucial,” Adeline Van Houtte, a political analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London, said in emailed comments. “Not only because a fresh parliament is essential for political accountability, but also because it will dictate how the executive will be able to enact promised reforms.”

The coalition partners weren’t able to agree on a unified list of candidates, prompting Barrow, 52, to embark on a nationwide tour to mobilize voters and tell them that the coalition remained intact despite its differences. Jammeh’s APRC party, which doesn’t have a new leader, has put 29 candidates forward for the vote.

Declining GDP

Under Jammeh’s 22-year rule, gross domestic product fell to $489 per capita in 2013 from $720 in 1994, according to World Bank data. The slowdown has prompted thousands of young people among the population of less than 2 million to try to emigrate each year, with Gambians ranking consistently among the top three nationalities arriving by boat on Italy’s shores, according to the International Organization for Migration.

After taking office, Barrow pledged to explore for oil and invest in infrastructure. The country also wants to expand its fisheries sector and provide free basic education.

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