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GAMBIA: POSTMORTEM OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS

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The local government elections have been held in relative calm and serenity, which is undoubtedly a feather on the cap of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and, of course, the Gambian electorate, who had exercised maturity during the period of campaign and voting.

However, analysing the results, one would not fail to see a few lessons for almost all the actors, including the IEC and the government. While there had always been a low turnout in local government elections, holding the elections during Ramadan was undoubtedly a significant factor responsible for the abysmal turnout.

According to the IEC, the turn-out was only 243,899 out of the 962 157 registered voters, just about 25 per cent. Of course, the IEC would insist that their hands were tied by the law to do anything to avoid the elections being held in Ramadan, but there is no doubt that there are provisions in the law which could have been utilised to vary the time, even by a week or two.

This perennial low turnout of voters for local government elections is yet another justification for why the IEC and the government should seriously consider holding all three elections, presidential, legislative and local government, at the same time. That would not only address the problem of the low turn-out, but it will also certainly be more cost-effective. Rather than spending millions of Dalasi every few months to recruit election officials and all the other paraphernalia that goes with organising elections, there would be quite a lot of savings if the three elections are held simultaneously.

Looking at the local government election results in the various administrative areas, the ruling National People’s Party (NPP) has demonstrated its dominance up-country, particularly in the Upper River Region (URR) and Central River Region (CRR), thus maintaining its characteristic of being a “Bolongkono” party. The NPP, therefore, deserves to be commended for performing so well in their first local government elections. It has, however, performed quite severely in the Kanifing Municipality (KM) and Brikama Area Council (BAC), which no doubt must have been a big disappointment for President Adama Barrow and his politburo because those two areas were the most valuable prizes that he would have loved to capture. There is no doubt that if he were given the choice of conceding the rest of the country to the opposition and winning only those two areas, he would have jumped for it without hesitation.

Why? Because apart from being the most densely populated parts of the country, they are also the most lucrative areas of the country, both in terms of finance and political influence. Therefore, whoever controls those two areas controls the heartbeat of the country.

With the dismal performance of the NPP in KM and BAC, we can all imagine how Bakary Badjie and Seedy Ceesay, the NPP candidates for mayor and chairman for those two areas in the forthcoming mayoral elections scheduled for next month, must have been quite rattled by the results of the NPP candidates.

They must by now be recalibrating their chances against Mayor Talib Bensouda and Yankuba Darboe, candidates of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) for those two municipalities.

However, unlike the last legislative elections when the party was completely routed in Banjul, the NPP has won most of the seats in the capital, which no doubt must have also left the Mayor of Banjul, Rohey Malick, Lowe, a bit rattled.

However, whether that is enough reason to give confidence to the NPP candidate, Ebou Faye, that he would get an easy walk-over against her is not entirely sure.

Analysing the results in Banjul would show that even in those wards where the NPP candidates won, the difference in numbers was not quite big to show a trend. In some wards, the NPP candidates obtained less than 50 per cent of the votes cast. We have seen that out of the 11968 votes cast in Banjul, NPP received 6116 votes while the combined opposition received 5852 votes, a difference of mere 264 votes.

It is, therefore, quite likely that those who chose to stay at home and failed to go out and vote are the ones who would most likely make the difference in the mayoral elections. Therefore, since Mayor Rohey Lowe is the incumbent, it is most likely to give her some advantage over her opponents.

The results should also be a big lesson to the opposition parties because it has shown that if they were wise enough to form a tactical alliance and avoid contesting against each other, they would have likely won much more seats than they have done.

A look at the results in most of the wards shows that the combined votes of the opposition were more than the NPP coalition. Therefore, a tactical alliance would have given them more chances against the NPP in many of those wards. However, it is sometimes the arrogance and stubbornness of some of the party leadership as well as their lack of proper strategies and over-confidence, which cause them more problems than their opponents. However, only two seats separated the NPP and its allies from the combined opposition (UDP, GDC, PDOIS and Independents).

The NPP coalition obtained 61 of the 120 wards, while the opposition received 59 wards. However, considering that more than half of the country’s population lives in KM and BAC, there is no doubt that the opposition, which dominated those two areas, received more votes than the ruling party. But as they say in football, it is not the percentage of ball possession that counts but the number of goals scored. Therefore, the fact that the NPP coalition has obtained more seats than the opposition makes them the winners of the elections.

As regards the NPP, they must have no doubt learnt that money and other inducements were not enough to sway most of the voters. It was alleged that the NPP spent millions of Dalasi’s worth of gifts and other incentives, particularly in the Greater Banjul Area and West Coast Region, but it did not help them much to get the desired results.

Another area that needs to be addressed by the IEC before the next cycle of elections is the disparity in the voter populations of the wards, just like the constituencies. Some of the wards are much bigger than some of the constituencies, which is an anomaly in a democracy. Therefore, many political analysts agree that the IEC should be serious in addressing those anomalies to bring our governance system in line with minimum acceptable democratic values.

By D. A. Jawo

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