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I'll be even-handed, says Gambia's new speaker of parliament

media A sign for the National Assembly in Banjul, 24 January 2017. Photo: Carl de Souza/AFP

Gambia’s new speaker of the National Assembly has told RFI that she will remain non-partisan and ensure that the proceedings in the country’s parliament are fair. Mariam Jack Denton was sworn in by President Adama Barrow this week and becomes the first speaker since the departure of former President Yahya Jammeh who ruled Gambia for 22 years.

“I feel highly honoured, it's a great privilege, it's quite a vindication,” Denton said in a telephone interview on Friday. She had previously been detained by the authorities under Jammeh and spent time in a notorious prison outside the Gambian capital Banjul.

“I've always been a member of the United Democratic Party, very critical of Jammeh to the point that I was arrested and incarcerated for 111 days at Mile Two,” she said.

Q&A: Mariam Jack Denton

Denton said she felt “extremely emotional” to learn of her appointment as National Assembly speaker. “Indeed it's a great turn of events, it was destined that way,” she added.

Her father Alieu Jack was twice speaker of parliament under Gambia’s first independent leader Dawda Jawara before his government was overthrown by Jammeh in a 1994 coup.

After spending decades in opposition, the UDP took the majority of seats in the National Assembly in last week’s elections. The parliament had previously been dominated by Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction party.

“I was very happy and excited, but I wasn't surprised because I know that UDP is the largest political party in the Gambia,” said Denton. “It has been proven by the results of the National Assembly elections.”

Denton vowed to remain impartial in her duties as speaker. “We expect healthy debate - everything will be properly scrutinised in the best interests of the country,” she said, “to make sure we don't have bad laws”.

President Barrow was brought to power through a coalition of opposition parties that joined together to beat Jammeh in the country’s December 2016 presidential polls. These parties then went their separate ways before the legislative elections that took place once Barrow had been brought to power.

“We have to be fair to all sides of the house, everybody will have his or her own share, we're not going to allow anybody to dominate,” said Denton, saying she expects lots of “lively” debate.

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