The people of the Gambian were called on Thursday, 6th April 2017 to the poll to elect members of the National Assembly, the first Parliamentary vote following the inauguration of President Adama Barrow. But, despite all efforts by the IEC to entice voters to come out in large numbers and vote in a series of voter sensitization programs, a huge number of registered voters decided to “vote with their feet” , thus making this election to be one of the lowest participation of voters in Parliamentary election in recent history.
The generally low voter turnout benefited the UDP candidates in various ways.
- The fragmentation within the coalition government frustrated many voters who lack the enthusiasm (motivation) to go and vote.
- It is reported that the low turnout is higher in the rural areas this helped to confirm the widely-held belief that those voters plying their trade in the urban area having to travel back to the provinces to vote could spend an average of D500 to cover their own travelling expenses. Spending such money for someone who most likely will not serve their interest could be a deterring factor.
- Also, going back to the provinces include giving out more money to relatives, friends and parents. So many would prefer to stay and not vote rather than travelling back with gifts and perks for family members
- It is also believed that the large number of voters in military fatigues in polling stations were noticeably absent during this election. The military votes used to favor the APRC and Yaya Jammeh. Their absence in this elections was noticeable
- A good number of voters were only interested in making sure that they voted to eliminate and end dictatorship and the reign of terror. For some that objective was achieved hence there is no need to go and vote
- This election saw an unprecedented number of candidates(238) in the parliamentary election with various programs which could be confusing to many elderly voters who are not conversant with development issues.
- Holding dialogue with the People our purposely organized for the President during the official election campaign period impinged on campaign fairness, facilitating access to public assets and resources by the UDP at the exclusion of the other candidates who lack adequate resources to match the other parties. Hence the increase in voter apathy and disinclination to back the independent candidates.
- A series of numberless vehicles (white Nissan pickups) were used in UDP rallies throughout the country. These were the same vehicles which the APRC were using during the Presidential campaign. Mobilzing state apparatus in support of one party affected the level of playing field
- Failed attempts to agree over candidates to run on the coalition ticket rather than each running under their party created a the general voter apathy which turned out to be a boon for the UDP.
The unusually high voter turnout is a message to combine the presidential and parliamentary elections together be held on the same day which IEC had previous stated in one of their sessions at the PAC/PEC meeting that they have no problem conducting the two together. This will save huge costs and improve the voter turnout during parliamentary elections which often has a lesser turnout percentage compared to the presidential elections.
If visiting the constitution to amend this provision which says that National Assembly elections ‘shall be held four months after the presidential elections’ is required, it could be included in the list of constitutional amendments to be tabled in this new legislative year to stem the tide of increasing voter apathy during parliamentary elections in the Gambia.
Whatever measures are taken up to now, the victory for this election goes to the visionary leaders of the movement ‘Tahawal Banjul ‘. Banjul has decided.
By An Insider Banjul