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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 January 2007, 08:45 GMT
Q&A: Gambian legislative elections
Incumbent President Yahya Jammeh
President Yahya Jammeh seeks a fourth term in office on 25 January

Voters in the tiny west African state of Gambia go to the polls on 25 January to elect new members of parliament for another five-year term. The elections are a follow-up to the presidential poll held on 22 September 2006 which the incumbent, President Yahya Jammeh, won by a large margin.

What's at stake?

For President Jammeh's ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), which dominates the outgoing National Assembly, the elections are an opportunity to further tighten control on power. Critics have described the outgoing House as a rubber-stamp parliament for the Jammeh government.

The opposition wants to use the poll to reduce the APRC's near-monopoly on power and avoid the possibility of becoming politically irrelevant in the country.

What were the results of the last elections?

Gambia last held legislative elections on 17 January 2002. The ruling APRC party won 45 out of the 48 seats. The party ran unopposed in 33 constituencies, after the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) boycotted the elections, alleging malpractice and irregularities in the run-up to the poll.

How does the electoral system work?

Gambia is a republic, with legislative power vested in the country's unicameral parliament, known as the National Assembly. The House has 53 members. Voters directly elect 48 of the members, while the president appoints the remaining five.

The elections will be overseen by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), made up of five members, all of whom are presidential appointees. The country's Supreme Court has the final say on any electoral disputes.

Candidates can either stand on a party platform or as independents. The electoral commission has approved 103 candidates for the elections. Only the ruling party is contesting in all 48 constituencies. Campaigning officially ended on 23 January, two days before polling.

There are around 670,000 registered voters out of the country's total population of 1.5 million people. Voting is by secret ballot, and some 930 polling stations will be operating on the day.

Which are the main parties?

President Jammeh's Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) party has a near-monopoly on power. It maintains tight control over state resources, dominates the current National Assembly, and has close ties with the military.

Despite attempts to present a united political front, Gambia's opposition has proved to be weak and divided. The most prominent opposition party is the United Democratic Party led by Ousainou Darboe, which is in alliance with the National Reconciliation Party (NRP). The UDP is reported to have put up some 29 candidates while the NRP has put up 9. The other main opposition grouping is the National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD).

This is an alliance of three parties and includes the People's Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), led by Halifa Sallah, a prominent critic of the government.

Will the elections be free and fair?

Opposition leader Ousainou Darboe called the September 2006 presidential election "a sham", and claimed it was not free and fair. Opposition and international rights groups accused the government of manipulating the voters' register, and of harassing opposition figures and activists.

There were also claims of severe restrictions on access to the public media, and strong-arm tactics against privately-owned media.

However, international observers, including a Commonwealth Observer Group and an observer mission from the regional body, Ecowas, broadly endorsed the presidential poll.

The Commonwealth Observer Group's report noted "shortcomings" in the process, including biased coverage by state-run media, but said voters were able to express their will, and that the result reflected the wish of the Gambian people.

Concerned parties will be watching the parliamentary poll in light of the issues raised by last year's presidential election.

Will there be any observers?

It is unclear whether international bodies will be sending observers to monitor the elections, but the Gambian authorities have cleared a number of local observers. The United Nations' Development Programme and the UK's Department for International Development and the European Union are funding some local civil society groups to monitor the elections. The groups include the National Council for Civic Education (NCCE), the CSO Coalition on Election and the Gambia Press Union.

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