Friday, March 30, 2012

Poor Voter Turnout in Gambia Parliamentary Election: March 29

Many voters during the presidential election lost interest in the MPs election: Pix by Modou S. Joof
The Gambia’s March 29 parliamentary election has been characterised by a low voter turnout across the country.
 In the country’s largest town cum commercial centre, Serrekunda, two of the three constituencies - Serrekunda East and Serrekunda West did not vote as ruling APRC’s incumbent SulaymanJoof and FabakaryTombongJatta respectively were returned unopposed. 
Though the day is declared a public holiday, it was business as usual at the main business center, the Serrekunda market, and the traffic was also uninterrupted. 
The low voter turnout is linked to the opposition boycott of the polls on allegations of an unleveled political playing field, but the electoral commission rubbished such claim. 
“I do not think that the low turnout is as a result of the opposition boycott of the polls,” argued Daniel Assan Gomez, assistant returning officer for the Serrekunda Central.
“I think we still lack education in Gambia pertaining to National Assembly elections. I do not think we are taking this election seriously.” 
In one of five polling stations at the Serrekunda Primary School - in Serrekunda Central where independent candidate Sheikh Omar Saho was pitted against the ruling party’s Sainey O. Jaiteh - only 124 people of 570 cast their votes, six hours after polls were open. 

Some 33, 761 people voted in Serrekunda Central during last year’s presidential election, compared to 11, 071 in the 2012 parliamentary election.

“The turnout is not good but I think the Independent Electoral Commission, IEC, is not to blame, it has done its best to sensitise the people on radio and television,” Daniel Assan Gomez further argued. “I think all Gambians should be blamed for this, especially those who choose not to come out and vote.” 

At 2pm, less than 200 of 770 people voted in one of two polling stations at the Gaddafi Mosque in Serrekunda. The presiding officer Alagie Sowe confirmed the low turnout, and was hopeless of recording more votes.

By 5pm local time, only a hundred of 628 people cast their votes in one of three polling stations at Barthez in Serrekunda. Polls close an hour later.

When the results were announced early Friday night by the IEC chairman, Mustapha L. Carayol, the incumbent,SaineyOusainouJaiteh won the seat again. He secured 5974 votes while his challenger, Sheikh Omar Saho got 5097 votes. 

Voting only took place in 23 of 48 districts across the country in 510 polling stations.
Reports of voter apathy have been recorded in some of the most populous areas of the Gambia: Brikama, the regional capital of the West Coast Region, the town of Bakau, the Gambian capital, Banjul and other parts of the country.

Early in March, six of seven active opposition parties said they can’t go into “sham election” and decided to boycott the parliamentary election on grounds that their recommendations to the IEC for an even political playing field have not been met.

In the run-up to the polls, the office of President YahyaJammeh issued a statement warning supporters of the ruling APRC party not to vote for independent candidates since it “is the same as voting for the opposition.”

The statement, March 23, 2012, followed conspicuous divisions within the APRC party, after some of its members decided to stand against the party’s choice of candidates.

Gambia's presidential elections in November was widely criticized by the Sub-regional economic bloc, ECOWAS.

Author: Modou S. Joof

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