Gambia did not receive administrative autonomy from the British until 1963. Two years later, on 18 February 1965, they achieved full independence and joined the British Commonwealth. Until the military coup of 1994, the Gambia had been governed under a republican constitution by an executive president and a unicameral legislature, with the House of Representatives elected for 5-year terms. Until 1996, the House of Representatives had 36 members elected by universal adult suffrage, 5 chief's representative members elected by head-chiefs, plus the attorney general and 8 non-voting nominated members.
A new constitution was approved by referendum on 7 August 1996. It provides for a unitary republican democracy with a president, vice-president, and secretaries of state responsible to parliament. Five members are nominated by the president, and 45 elected. There is an ombudsman and an independent judiciary. The constitution allows for declaration of a state of emergency and convening of special courts to try cases of corruption. A two-thirds majority in parliament is required to change the constitution.
Dawda Jawara, founder of the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) who dominated Gambian politics from the 1960s, won the election in 1970 when the country was proclaimed a republic. In 1994, a military coup led by Yahaya Jammeh overthrew president Dawda Jawara, ending his long political leadership of the country. In September 1996, Jammeh—up to then chief of the Armed Forces Government Junta—became the Gambia's second elected president. Since August 1997, the government has lifted restrictions which limited political activity.
In 1995, central government revenue was 20 percent of GDP. The most recent year for which data is available is 1987, when taxes in income, profits, and capital gains generated 16 percent of government revenue, domestic taxes on goods and services 10 percent, export levies and import duties 66 percent, other taxes 1 percent, and nontax revenue 7 percent.
Corporation tax is 25 percent, or 2 percent of turnover , whichever is the greater. Many charities and non-government organizations are exempt from tax, and the Ministry of Finance has considerable discretionary powers to grant tax relief to new investors.