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

Video In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

Ninety percent of homes in one small village were damaged or destroyed as government forces failed to stop a rebel advance More

Pakistan’s 'Last Self-Declared Jew' Attacked, Detained

Argument about the rights of non-Muslims in Pakistan allegedly results in mob beating well-known Jewish Pakistani More

Turkey Cracks Down on Political Dissent, Again

People daring to engage in political dissent ahead of upcoming general elections could find themselves in jail 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.
In Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobanii
X
Mahmoud Bali
March 06, 2015 8:43 PM
Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobani

Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

In the village of Nikishino, in eastern Ukraine, recent fighting has brought utter devastation. Ninety percent of the houses are damaged or destroyed after government forces tried and failed to stop rebels advancing on the strategically important town of Debaltseve nearby. Patrick Wells reports for VOA from Nikishino.
Video

Video Crime Scenes Re-Created in 3-D Visualization

Police and prosecutors sometimes resort to re-creations of crime scenes in order to better understand the interaction of all participants in complicated cases. A Swiss institute says advanced virtual reality technology can be used for quality re-creations of events at the moment of the crime. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More