News / Africa

Senegal Inaugurates New Parliament

Senegal's President Macky Sall in meetings at the presidential palace, Dakar, July 28, 2012.
Senegal's President Macky Sall in meetings at the presidential palace, Dakar, July 28, 2012.
Nancy Palus
DAKAR -- Senegal is inaugurating a new parliament Monday with a coalition led by the president's party holding a large majority.

The day's mantra among citizens and new lawmakers is “a break from the past” -- a past in which parliament was seen as serving the political elite rather than the people.

The new national assembly takes office about four months into the administration of President Macky Sall, who came to office vowing greater decentralization of power. Last week, President Sall, whose Benno Bokk Yakaar coalition won 119 of 150 seats in an election earlier this month, said the Senegalese people's demands for better governance will require a "rigorous" parliament and effective collaboration between lawmakers and the executive.

The incoming assembly is the first since Senegal adopted a gender parity law designed to boost the number of female legislative candidates. Of its 150 elected representatives, 65 are women -- nearly twice the number of the outgoing parliament.

Civil society members say women tend to be well in tuned to their communities’ needs and their presence is expected to improve the parliament’s responsiveness to the people.

The newly elected lawmakers will serve five-year terms in parliament.

Maintaining stability

West African nations were relieved earlier this year when Senegal -- which has never seen a coup and is known for the relatively sound functioning of its democratic institutions -- got past a tumultuous election and completed another peaceful transition of power.

While the country's political stability is to be lauded, researchers with OSIWA and AfriMAP, both of which are funded by Open Society Foundations, say electoral and constitutional reforms are urgently needed to safeguard stability and improve citizen participation.

While the national assembly has three main functions -- to represent the people, to pass laws, and to provide oversight of the administration -- researchers say previous legislators have fallen short.

Under the current electoral system, say researchers of one Open Society report, lawmakers represent their parties more than their communities, and parliament, historically, has not proven a real check on executive power.

One reason for that, says the report’s author, law professor Ismaïla Madior Fall, is the way lawmakers are elected.
 
"Citizens vote for lists that are drawn up by political party bosses," he said. "Candidates don’t generally emanate from the community level."
 
One of the report’s recommendations is that candidates be nominated by their local constituencies, not by political party leaders.
 
The nomination method, says Hawa Ba, Open Society Initiative’s country officer for Senegal, is one reason people tend not to sense a connection with their lawmakers. In many cases, says Ba, parties name people with means and influence to advance the interests of the party, to the detriment of a would-be representative who might be less influential politically but have a strong attachment to the electorate.
 
"There is a very weak link between representatives and the people they represent," she said. "One would think there would be a big turnout for the legislative polls, given that members of parliament are supposed to address the community’s demands. But the fact that only 36 percent of eligible voters came out in the July 1 legislative election indicates this is not happening."
 
Under the current electoral system, says the report, one party -- usually that of the president -- can too easily dominate the assembly, making it difficult to forge a viable opposition.
 
The report also calls for a minimum education requirement for parliamentarians. Professor Fall says more than one quarter of the outgoing national assembly was illiterate, and basic educational standards could to enhance the body’s overall competence to act as a counterweight to the executive.

Addressing voter disenfranchisement

While some Senegalese say they went to the polls out of a sense of civic duty, many say voting in the legislative election is futile.

"We’re tired of voting for people who forget about us the second they take office," said Hyacinth, a 33-year-old construction worker from Kaolack. "I have voted in the past -- I’m Senegalese and I want to fulfil my role as a citizen, but this time I just didn’t see the use."

According to Ba, although members of parliament must step up, voters also must start demanding more from their leaders, and her organization plans to hold meetings in all of Senegal’s 45 departments where lawmakers will sit and talk with the communities they represent.

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid