Gambia president's party takes majority in parliament

Elections in the Gambia

BANJUL, Gambia (AP) — The party of Gambia's new president won a comfortable majority of seats in parliament after two decades of domination by the party of former leader Yahya Jammeh, the Independent Electoral Commission announced Friday (07. April 2017).

President Adama Barrow's United Democratic Party won 31 seats in the 53-seat National Assembly. The results mean Barrow can move ahead with promised reforms. Barrow will appoint another five seats, including speaker and deputy speaker.

"We have been in the dark for 22 years and our roads were very bad and electricity too was so poor, but now that victory is ours, they won't let us down," said Adama Mendy, a 34-year-old vegetable vendor who voted for the UDP candidate who won in her district of Serrekunda.

Mendy said she wasn't surprised by the sweep in Parliament, and had high hopes that pollution and bad sewage systems would now be addressed.

"As we voted for our candidates and they're the majority our suffering has come to an end," she said.

Barrow, who beat Jammeh in December elections, has promised economic improvements, greater freedoms and a path toward reconciliation in this tiny West African country. Jammeh's government was long accused of rights abuses.

The former ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction party was reduced to five seats, according to results read out by IEC chair Alieu Momarr Njai. He called the vote free and fair.

Various parties that together backed Barrow in the December election but ran separately on Thursday won remaining seats.

While more than 880,000 voters were registered to vote, turnout was low. A total of 10 political parties took part in the National Assembly elections.

Gambia's more than 1.8 million people were ruled for 22 years by Jammeh, whose refusal to leave power brought regional countries to the brink of a military intervention. His flight into exile in January was a dramatic moment for many in Africa, where a number of leaders have clung to power for decades.

"UDP emerges victorious in the parliamentary elections, and now they can lead toward the change Gambians voted for. We hope the parliament will deliver in ensuring government will move on the right path," human rights lawyer Assan Martin told AP.

He warned, however, of the risks of replicating the past, saying the new lawmakers should avoid being a rubberstamp for the president.

Expectations are high that Barrow's government will strengthen Gambia and its institutions. Martin said it will also be vital that the new government not turn their back on the APRC and Jammeh's supporters, and work toward unity.

Voter Salifu Bojang, a young Gambian in Talinding, celebrated the election of the only female UDP candidate in his constituency, Fatoumata Jawara, and said of the APRC:

"If APRC wants to win back the hearts of Gambians, they need to change the name and color of the party," he said.