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

Asian Stocks Plunge on Weak Factory Activity

Official survey finds China’s manufacturing sector contracted at its fastest pace in three years More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs