By Foday Manneh
As part of the 2021-2023 electoral cycle, Gambians returned to the polls on April 15, 2023, to elect new local government councilors across the country to steer the affairs of various wards in administrative councils for the next five years.
Despite a significantly low voter turnout in almost all polling stations nationwide, the April 15 polls saw a tightly contested election in some parts of the country.
The ruling National People’s Party emerged as the winner with the highest seats, having won 52 of the 113 seats contested, with the opposition United Democratic Party coming closely behind with 45 seats, APRC and GDC won 5 seats each, NRP grabbed four seats, with PDOIS as well as one Independent winner.
NPP massively scooped the provincial Gambia, particularly the Upper River Region, where they won 12 out of 14 wards, with an additional 11 in the North Bank Region, where 15 seats were contested.
However, the ruling party got a massive blow in the Greater Banjul Area with significant losses in crucial battlegrounds such as the West Coast and Kanifing Municipality despite sweeping 7 of the nine seats in the Capital Banjul.
After announcing the results, the Alkamba Times spoke to a political scientist about the outcome of local councillorship elections to gauge its potential impact on the Mayoral and chairperson elections in May 2023.
A political science lecturer at the University of The Gambia, Mr. Essa Njie, highlighted the dominance of different political parties in other parts of the country following the April 15 councilors elections.
“Banjul is always unpredictable, and in analyzing that outcome for the Capital in the mayoral election, we may not speak with certainty to say NPP would win despite winning the majority of councilors; it good to note that five of those winners were UDP incumbents who defected to NPP,” Njie said.
“These people have an existing relationship with the people of Banjul which is a sizeable area, so all five have the advantage of incumbency, which is why they retained their seats. This is the possibility that the people could not have appreciated UDP’s choice of candidates. As a result, electorates voted for people they already know.”
“We must also not lose sight of the fact that the NPP candidate in Banjul did well when he contested as an Independent in 2018. He scored over 1800 votes, a good performance for an Independent candidate. If he is now contesting under the ruling party who controls grassroots politics in Banjul by winning 7 of the nine councilor seats, they have an advantage too,” he explained.
Considering UDP’s massive wins in both parliamentary and recent councilors elections in Kanifing Municipality, the political scientist observed that there is an indication of KM’s rejection of NPP that could hugely impact the Mayoral elections in May.
“I think if the UDP Mayoral candidate can maintain that momentum by using his councilors to do grassroots politics for him ahead of the elections, he will be able to do something,” Essa sighted.
Njie, however, does not rule out the NPP candidate’s winning in Kanifing City but suggests more hard work to unseat a Mayor with a robust municipal base.
In the West Coast Region, Njie said, “It is yet again a big disappointment for the NPP to have only won one or two seats. That was not a good performance on their side, and ahead of the Mayoral and Chairperson elections there, this shows NPP has a lot of work to do.”
“They lost massively in the parliamentary and councilors elections. But, the emergence of an Independent candidate who was part of their party would affect them in the West Coast Region. If UDP can maintain the momentum in that area, they can secure the seat.
In rural Gambia, the UTG lecturer highlighted that both the Lower River Region and North Bank Region – are known as opposition strongholds, but NPP is penetrating forcefully, while he stressed that Central and Upper River Regions are undeniably for the ruling party.
“The NPP won the majority of the seats in this election with their grand coalition. However, most of them are not just pleased with the outcome because the opposition-dominated key political battlegrounds of the country in both West Coast and KM,” Essa observed.
In his observation of the electoral process, Mr. Essa Njie said the elections were smooth but preferred to wait for observers to ascertain the fairness and transparency of the general process.
Ahead of the 2021-2023 electoral cycle, the Gambia Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) registered 962,157 voters. However, less than a quarter of that number voted in Saturday’s councilors elections, recording a massive low voter turnout with only 243,889 voted.
“The fact that People don’t attach much importance to LG elections contributes to the low voter turnout. Another is the sentiment that they have no reason to vote because politicians are transmitting the same messages that do not necessarily represent their interest,” Essa told TAT.
“We also have to understand the period our elections are conducted, knowing fully well that this is a country with a Muslim majority and holding an election in Ramadan could affect voter turnout. Therefore, I think the level of sensitization and education about the importance of this election needs to increase,” he urged.