HISTORY OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
The National Assembly of The Gambia is the unicameral legislature of the Gambia. The authorisation for the National Assembly lies in Chapter VII of the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia. It is composed of 58 Members who serve a five-year term. 53 Members are directly elected while the remaining five are appointed by the President. Members are elected in single-member constituencies using the simple majority, or first-past-the-post system.
Representative politics in The Gambia began in the 1840s. The first official representative called the Legislative Council was established in 1843 with three European Members, all of whom were nominated by the Governor. In the 1880s Mr. Richards was nominated as the first Gambian member in the then Council.
In 1942 however, the provision of having representatives from both the Muslim and Christian communities in Bathurst (Banjul) was created.
It was not until 1947 that the first elections of the Legislative Council were held. The 1947 Constitution, provided for elections for Bathurst and Kombos only and Edward Francis Small became the first Gambian to be elected Member of the Legislative Council.
The idea of Representation in Parliament was first fought by Edward Francis Small with the Slogan “No Taxation without Representation’. The development of the Legislature and the Constitution started during this period. In 1951 Political Parties were allowed and in 1954 Ministers were appointment. In the same year the positions of the Speaker and the Clerk to the Legislative Council were created.
The name Legislative Council was changed in 1962 to the House of Representatives and in 1970 the name changed to Parliament. the name National Assembly and National Assembly Members was used in 1997. The change of name was due to Constitutional developments of the country.
Legislative representation based on universal adult suffrage in the Gambia began in May 1962, when elections were held for a 32-seat House of Representatives. These elections were won by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), which was led by Dawda Jawara. After independence in 1965, the PPP continued to dominate the House of Representatives by winning a series of free, democratic elections in 1966, 1972, 1977, 1982, 1987, and 1992.
While opposition parties were continuously present in the House, they were never able to successfully wrest power from the PPP. Jawara’s government was overthrown in a July 1994 military coup led by Yahya Jammeh. The constitution and all elected institutions, including the House of Representatives, were dissolved. After the coup, political party activities were banned. The ban was lifted in August 1996 following the approval of a new constitution, but three Jawara-era parties – the PPP, Gambian People’s Party (GPP), and the National Convention Party (NCP) remained proscribed.
Legislative elections to the renamed National Assembly took place on 2 January 1997. Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) won 33 out of 45 seats, the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) won 7, two went to both the National Reconciliation Party (NRP) and Independents, with the People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) winning the remaining seat.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) lifted the ban on the PPP, GPP, and NCP in August 2001, five months before the next scheduled legislative election.
OFFICE OF THE SPEAKER
The position of Speaker of the Legislative Council was created in 1954. The first Speaker was nominated, at a time there were only Seven (7) Parliamentarians of whom 5 were elected and 2 nominated. Below is the list of Speakers’ of Parliament from inception:
i. Hon. Sir John Mahoney – 1954-1962
ii. Hon. Sir Alieu Suleiman Jack – 1962-1972
iii. Hon. SHO Jones – 1972 -1983
iv. Hon. Alhagie Momodou Babacarr Njie (BP) – 1983- 1994
v. Hon. Muastapha Wadda – 1994- 2001
vi. Hon. Sheriif M Dibba – 2002-2006
vii. Hon. Mrs. Belinda G. Bidwell – 2006-2007
viii. Hon. Mrs. Fatoumatta Jahumpha Ceesay – 2007-2009
ix. Hon. Mrs. Elizabeth Renner – 2009-2010
x. Hon. Aboulie Bojang – 2010- 2017
xi. Hon. Mariama Jack Denton – 2017 to 2021
xii. Hon. Fabakary Tombong Jatta – 2021 to Date.
In the beginning, for the nomination of Speaker, MPs send the name of the person nominated as Speaker to the Governor. The Speaker does not belong to any political party and should be a retired Government worker. The 1962 Constitution provided that the Speaker should come from the Majority party, who should be nominated. Meaning he/she should come from the President’s nominated MPs. This practice is maintained in the 1997 Constitution.
The first female to of Parliament was Lucretia Claire Jones. She was nominated to the House of Representatives in 1962 by the then Prime Minister Sir Dawda K. Jawara. On the other hand, Nyimasatta Sanneh Bojang from the Kombo North Constituency was the first female to be elected to Parliament in the 1982 Parliamentary elections. Nomination in Parliament has been in history since 1843. The 1951 Constitution pegged the number of Nominated Members to five (5) and the 1997 Constitution maintained same.
LEADER OF GOVERNMENT BUSINESS (MAJORITY AND MINORITY LEADERS)
In the 1970 Constitution, the Vice President was the leader of Government business. He/she performed the roles of the Majority Leader and attends every Parliamentary session to defend Government business.
The portfolio of Majority and Minority Leaders was created by the 1997 Constitution and since the National Assembly is separated from the Executive
branch of government, the Majority and Minority Leaders are exclusive Members of the National Assembly and hold no cabinet position.
PRESIDENTIAL APPEARANCE IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
Section 77 (1) of the 1997 Constitution requires the President of the Republic to attend a Sitting of the National Assembly at least once a year and address a session on the condition of The Gambia, the policies of the Government and the administration of the State.