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Monday, October 2, 2023

The imperative of selecting the right people for the National Assembly

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With the striking out of the UDP election petition by the Supreme Court and the swearing in of Adama Barrow as president for a fresh five-year mandate, a line has been drawn over the 2021 presidential election. Now the Independent Electoral Commission has formally started the National Assembly election process last week with the issuing of nomination papers to aspirants.

Colourful campaign paraphernalia will soon appear everywhere. Political vuvuzelas will blare into the late nights and the decibels of angry rhetoric will be notched up on political platforms, radios and social media. Multi-party democracy with elections as its cornerstones is inherently noisy, so we should expect a noisy few months. On April 9th, about 962,157 registered voters are expected to select 53 men and women to serve as their representatives at the national bantaba.

The selection and election of candidates to the National Assembly is as important as the election of a president. Not only are they the direct representatives of the people, they enact laws and play key oversight functions. Parliament as an institution is a key pillar of the state. But a parliament can be reduced to being a figurative rubber stamp of the executive when its members shirk their responsibilities of being representatives and voices of the people and kowtow to the whims and caprices of an uninspired executive.

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What we need in The Gambia is a vibrant and an effective parliament. Therefore, the people should exercise the necessary due diligence in selecting candidates. We should select the best among the lot. In the 2017 National Assembly election, the community of the capital came together under the aegis of the Tahawwal Banjul committee and scrutinised the aspirants and came up with consensus candidates for the parties. All three of them won the election and to a great extent they delivered according to their mandate as representatives of their people. That should be the ideal for everywhere else.

The UDP announced that the party will be maintaining all its current parliamentarians. That is disappointing because some of the party’s current parliamentarians have performed well below par and the people should have been given a say in whether they want them to continue to represent them. No one should have that cushion of entitlement in our politics.

It is also important that our parties encourage diversity. For example, we need more women and minorities in the National Assembly. Parties need to adopt policies of positive discrimination in order to bring this about. For example, how many Christians and people of other or no faith do we have serving as National Assembly Members in the current parliament? What about people with visual impairment, physical disabilities or those who hard of hearing? All Gambians should be represented in the new National Assembly we will have in April.  

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