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May 2023 Local Government Election: A fight against relative deprivation

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By Lamin Keita

The recent mayoral and chairmanship elections proves why citizens rebel against the status quo of the elite coalition. The behavior patterns of electorates represent a lack of bread in figurative terms synonymous with the French Revolution against King Louis XIV. The only difference is that the Gambian citizens used their vote against the perceived corrupt networks of the status quo instead of using violent uprising. During the terror years of Jammeh, the country stood up and fought against it. The people mobilised, and the most significant, peaceful change in the history of any West African country occurred. That is what Gambians are capable of. That is who we are. The vast majority of Gambians want to see our country thrive. Let nobody tell you otherwise.

However, the condition under Barrow is comparable because poverty, social injustice, and institutional incompetence posed the most significant challenge preventing the majority of ordinary Gambians from having a loaf of bread for consumption and a decent living standard. Moreover, the luxurious lifestyle of the elite coalition network and their insensitivity to the current affairs of the people are killing Gambians at an exponential rate. Analysing the votes from BCC, KMC, BAC, LRR, and other regions summarises the explanatory variables of the citizens’ lack of trust and confidence in the Barrow government’s governing capacity.

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Relative deprivation of the people produces collective discontent against the governing capacity of the government during the recent Mayoral and Chairmanship elections. Theoretically, Barrow’s candidates did not do well because many people became angry because of the existing practical conditions that encouraged aggression against the national and collective interests of the country. In this political game theory, people become angry about the status quo when there is relative poverty or a gap between the value of things and opportunities, they feel entitled to and the things and opportunities they get. As a result, what contributes to Barrow’s inability to win BCC, KMC, BAC, and LRR, is the decremental value expectations of citizens, which remained constant or significantly deteriorated over the past seven years. While the value capabilities of his government declined remarkably, which generated psychological motivations and personal disappointment among those who even voted for Barrow during the 2021 presidential election.

Barrow’s declining political party influence and performance during the recent elections have increasingly served as vehicle for many citizens to express such grievances and channel political action. Moreover, the lack of internal democracy within the NPP party seems to bring faction and friction. This lack of internal democracy at the party level serves as a barrier to the progress of the NPP because it causes enormous concentration of power among a few supporters, which appears to be against the principles of democracy and the growth of the party. As a result, the government seems to take citizens for granted and does not take the socioeconomic and political conditions of the country seriously; instead, it turns the country into political opportunism and luxurious fanfare. Barrow’s government presents itself as an elite corporate coalition that operates through rent-seeking and a kind of “big man and deep state” personal network podium. These factors produced an outcome of social, economic, and political inequalities due to external influence through power politics. The citizens’ reaction to such societal changes led to a need for more public support for NPP.

One reason the UDP lost the Presidential election and continues to be relevant in the Gambian politics and do well in recent polls is due to the party’s Instrumental rationality, which is based on its former candidates’ efficiency and competency to get to the support grassroots base. This spurred the uprisings of support because it enabled new ways of communication (even if uncertainty and imperfect information exist), which required cognitive shortcuts that made actors judge the situations. These factors might explain the diffusion of the UDP party but need to account for NPP’s ignorance or awareness of the structural needs of Gambians. In contrast, the power of Gambia’s oppositions’ activities—and their frequent turns to electoral politics—points to the crucial role that political parties play in holding governments to account. One essential new measure the UDP explores is the increase in nontraditional political mobilisation through grassroots and civil society organisations. This is evidenced in their campaign strategies and the party’s ability to best harness its energy through increased engagement and substantive internal deliberation, which posed substantive barriers to the success of NPP in recently concluded elections.

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For NPP to thrive, they must clearly define their political trajectory in no ambiguous concepts but in actions that speak and demonstrate the deeds of the elected representatives. The government should be accountable to the people and aligns its developmental programmes according to the whims of the current needs—which will translate into political victories—under a free and fair electoral process.

Lamin Keita is a US Fulbright Research Fellow. He writes on political and social issues.

@Northwestern University

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