The 2022 National Assembly (NA) elections concluded with an emphatic statement with results highlighting implications for the country’s nascent democracy. From all indications, and despite the abysmal low turnout, the NA polls had been followed with much enthusiasm from an active citizenry interested in having a robust legislature as a co-equal branch of the government. Amidst this enthusiasm, there were concerns. In many quarters, there were doubts and apprehensions regarding the quality of some of the candidates being put forward. In fact, some observers and analysts predicted “the worst” legislature in the offing. However, there were some who had hope in some candidates, especially some effective lawmakers vying for re-election and the caliber of some of the independent candidates that sprung up across the country. All that now is behind us, and the results have been quite startling.
Let’s look at the results and the implications.
One just must give the United Democratic Party (UDP) its due when it comes to resilience, perseverance, and an organic commitment to advancing its interest, and by extension, that of the country. This is by no means a propaganda. This is a fact. For a party that suffered a brushing defeat at the hands of the incumbent to bounce back just four months is no small feat. It tells a lot. There are those who would argue that, in fact, the party has performed badly given that its numbers in the House have dropped from 23 (ignore the expelled to 15+1. This is technically right, it lost seven seats. However, it is important to look at the party’s performance from a broader perspective. In the aftermath of their shocking defeat four months ago, there were some analysts and observers who had predicted a gradual decline of the party’s dominance in the country’s political landscape.
In fact, some declared that the 2022 NA polls would be the party’s 40-day charity. While the party was grieving, other optimists concluded an imminent landslide victory for the governing National People’s Party (NPP) in the 2022 NA polls. And rightly so, given the incumbent’s unexpected performance in December. But going by the results, it is clear that the NPP lost more than the UDP. Consider this. President Barrow sanctioned an aggressive political tour to canvass votes for his NPP candidates across the country during which he used his podium to demonize his political opponents and laughed off their woes at December polls. He was accompanied on this tour by a good chunk of his ministers, advisers, and members of his grand coalition partners. Using state resources, they frantically wooed voters to consider their candidates in meetings characterized by huge ambiance and fanfare.
Barrow and his team were so determined to win big at all costs to consolidate their political power. Not even the Foni instability had distracted Barrow from achieving this goal. Despite this level of involvement, it is upsetting that the NPP managed to pull just 18 seats, a margin of just two ahead of the UDP. This is a new record for a governing party that has all the resources at its disposal. Thus, the UDP has a bragging right to celebrate what appears a true victory for them given all the circumstances that were against them. This comeback by the party will no doubt rejuvenate its base and embolden it for future elections, the nearest being the forthcoming local government elections in 2023. The comeback is a convincing morale booster for the party, one that will keep alive its dream of a future UDP government. It demonstrates enormous strengthen of the party and its determination to continue fighting even during the most difficult of challenges.
The caveat, though, is that the UDP must not be complacent. If there is anything, the party executives must be more forceful now than ever before. The party’s executive members must be actively involved to keep energizing their ever-committed diaspora and grassroots bases, the core structures of the party. The party’s executive members must always be prepared to dirty their hands if achieving that grand dream of a future UDP government is anything to go by. With the founding generation of the party preparing to hang their boots, the challenge lies on the new younger generational leaders to consolidate all the gains of the party. That, though, will come at a cost, a cost the new leaders must be prepared to shoulder.
NPP’s poor performance and the implications
The astonishing poor performance of the NPP could only be compared to the 1962 general elections when Pierre Sarr Njie, as the country’s Chief Minister and first head of government – the incumbent, lost to Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara’s People’s Progressive Party (PPP), an opposition. That election saw PS Njie’s United Party grabbing 13 seats against PPP’s 18. The defeat led to the slow but eventual natural death of the UP. Since then, no ruling party ever lost a majority in the parliament. It is the first time in 60 years that a governing party failed to garner majority of seats even as it was backed by a coalition of political parties and independents.
Losing most important geographical regions
The horse party’s performance can best be gauged by its remarkable results in Banjul, Kanifing, and West Coast Region (WCR), regions that form more than 50 percent of the voting population. It is extraordinary that a party that secured 53 percent at the presidential elections got just one seat in these most important geographical and economic regions. These are also the regions with the most enlightened electorate. If I were President Barrow, this would warrant an immediate investigation with serious consequences for party officials. A sitting president could not have lost Banjul, the capital city, Kanifing, the economic superbase, and West Coast, the most populated region of the country. What went wrong would remain a question requiring an academic probe by political scientists.
But let’s look at circumstantial key factors that might led to this.
Firstly, there is apparent dissatisfaction with the Barrow administration, especially months after his victory. Citizens seem dissatisfied with many things, but the unbearable cost of living tops these concerns. Added to this, the apparent indifference of the administration to addressing this critical concern have arguably influenced the outcome. For months, citizens have complained about rising cost of living, demanding an urgent solution. However, the lackluster response and inaction from the government had infuriated many electorate. The only two notable responses from this administration were a Sankareh-issued dispatch, and an embarrassing statement from the Trade Ministry announcing Sierra Leon’s intervention in providing cooking oil to the citizens. Barrow spoke once on it at the airport with a statement that fell far from citizens’ expectation. In that interview, Barrow failed to offer his government’s immediate solution, but instead talked about Gambians turning to agriculture, a long-term solution. All these tell a government clearly lacking a strategy to dealing with high cost of living. Thus, the NA election was seen as an opportunity to punish the administration for failing to address this important concern.