Welcoming the members of the Sixth Legislature

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A few months after a tense presidential election and the ensuing legal tussle, Gambian voters returned to the polls on Saturday to elect their representatives to the national bantaba, the National Assembly.

As typical of parliamentary and local government elections in The Gambia, the voter turnout was unsurprisingly low at 51%. More than half of the registered voters casting their ballots might sound good, but when compared to five months ago in December when it was 89%, one realises it is after all not an excitably impressive figure. This means at least 400,000 voters didn’t cast their marbles. This is staggering. But why? Is it that we are in Ramadan and people feel hungry and tired to line up at polling stations? Are we only interested in presidential election and think the rest aren’t important? Or is it plain voter apathy or lethargy?

Moving forward, it would make sense to hold elections in The Gambia on the same day. This would ensure optimal voter turnout as well as save the national exchequer millions of dalasis which could be used on urgent things people in the country need such as medicines in our health facilities, roads, schools and so forth.

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The people have spoken. Unlike 2017 when UDP won 31 seats, this year’s elections shows more diversity in parliament, with 12 independents, 15 UDP and 18 NPP National Assembly Members. This means no single party has an overwhelming majority or influence.

To the new MPs who are expected to take their oaths of offices later this week, you have work cut out. The fifth legislature left in a hurry, literally. There is a raft of issues to sort out once you take oath. Chiefly, the anti-corruption bill, which was packed aside by your predecessors because of the absurd excuse that the attorney general travelled without notifying them. If we don’t fight corruption, we will be stuck in misgovernance forever. And the first step in fighting corruption is to pass legislations. That is your work.

The second order of business is the defeated draft constitution. The president promised to bring it back. We don’t know in which shape it would be but we need a new constitution. The 1997 Constitution has done enough damage. The sixth legislature can help with that as well.

There are 31 newcomers. This number is encouraging but it also means experience has dwindled, with veterans Halifa Sallah and Sidia Jatta not returning. But we have trust you can check the government and help us shape this country and put it on the right footing. Congratulations and more power to your elbow.