More than 239 people are seeking to become National Assembly Members in The Gambia, a record high in the political history of the West African nation.
After gaining independence from Great Britain in 1965, the PPP dominated the country’s politics and parliament for nearly three decades and so did, Yahya Jammeh’s APRC for two decades.
While politics in the first three decades of post-colonial Gambia was seen as a playground for adults in their late 40s and 50s, Jammeh’s reign saw many fearing to challenge his party’s candidates because of reprisal.
But the good ole days are gone and Jammeh’s dictatorship over. There is a new Gambia and many youths are running too, most of them, for the first time.
“Never has there been so many people wanting a seat in parliament… Most are young, first-time independent candidates,” Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from Banjul, said.
So why are Gambians, especially the young ones now getting really engaged in politics and seeking to become representatives?
“Things are equal, that’s why you have a lot of participants,” Ousman Manneh, 34, an assistant returning officer at a polling station in Bakau, a town not far from The Gambia’s capital, Banjul, told the AFP news agency.
Gambia’s new government led by President Adama Barrow quickly repealed a law by the Jammeh administration that levied a high fee for becoming a parliamentarian.
The law requiring candidates to pay $10,000 to secure their nomination with the electoral commission. The repealing means those seeking to become representatives will now pay a fee of $125.
One has to be only 21 years to run for office in the National Assembly elections. Many independent candidates are in their mid-20s, like University of The Gambia graduate Mustapha Kah, who has outshined his opponents in debates leading to Thursday’s elections.
The younger candidates, who are mostly policy focused and ideology oriented had their old-fashioned political opponents shying away from being embarrassed by their brilliance in public debates broadcasted on local radio stations.
The European Union has deployed an observation mission, with 20 people who will monitor the ballot across the country. Jammeh banned the EU from monitoring the last presidential elections.
Local media have said that the vote will be one of the closest since the country’s independence in 1965. President Barrow needs a majority in the National Assembly if he is to successfully push through his political reforms.
(Reporting and Writing by Sam Phatey; Additional Reporting from the BBC and Aljazeera; Editing by Sainey MK Marenah)