By CSO Coalition on Elections
The CSO Coalition on Elections-The Gambia spearheaded and coordinated by WANEP-The Gambia is a homegrown national platform established in 2006 to facilitate and enhance CSOs’ participation in elections and electioneering, democracy and good governance. With a membership of 30 Civil Society Organizations, the CSO Coalition on Elections continues to participate and influence public policy through election observation and conflict monitoring.
A team of 53 observers have been deployed in all seven administrative regions to observe the general voter registration exercise. In this preliminary statement, the Coalition offers a summary of its 2nd key observation from the voter registration exercise.
The Independent Electoral Commission on May 29, 2021, commenced a 44-day general voter registration exercise that would end on 11 July 2021. The IEC is expecting to register one million voters during this period. This is a nationwide registration exercise where each and every citizen of voting age in the country is expected to be registered. Previous voter cards are null and void. The exercise is conducted in line with sections 39 and 43 of the 1997 Constitution, Section 11 of the Elections Act. So far, the registration exercise does not include Gambians in the diaspora.
As at the end of the fourth week of registration, IEC has reported that a total of 720,394 were registered, of whom 309,075 are males and 411,319 are females.
Since the start of the registration exercise, the Coalition have observed the opening and closing in urban and rural registration centers. Below is a summary of the Coalition’s observation as of 29th June 2021.
- Unlike the first week, significant improvements have been observed leading to better efficiency which has reduced the delays encountered previously in the printing of voter cards. A general climate of calm and peace prevail across most voter registration centers;
- Challenges still remain with the issuance of attestation, generating accusations and counter-accusations and even violence in some instances in certain communities;
- At Sare Ngai in Upper River Region, there have been reports of non-Gambians registering, the issue led to a confrontation between suspected NPP supporters and the security forces, where IEC officials at the said center are reported to have been harassed and intimidated by the said NPP supporters, the commotion led to the suspension of registration for about half an hour;
- The security officers who tried to stop non-Gambians from registering were asked to report at the Immigration and Police Headquarters in Banjul for investigation and they fear that they could be penalized for just stopping non-Gambians whose record they have as regular payers of alien fees;
- In URR, there have been instances of people who appeared as minors being permitted to register;
- At Sinchu Alhagie, four copies of photocopied Attestation Forms were found in possession of a particular party agent, the matter was reported to IEC Head Office, who communicated to the party and the agent was said to be replaced the following day by another agent;
- The Alkalo of Niamina Catamina is reported to have given the Alaklo’s stamp to an individual suspected to be a staunch United Democratic Party UDP supporter attesting people in the community;
- Registration was disrupted in Manduar, Kombo Central, West Coast Region as tensions flared over arguments on who has authority to authorise attestation forms.
- Increased incidences of divisive political rhetoric continues to mark the pre-election period and the CSO Coalition fears the December election might evidence a backsliding of the country’s peace, stability and social cohesion;
- The CSO Coalition condemns the violent incident that happened at Mandaur and calls on all political parties and their militants to adhere to the constitutionally prescribed processes. There is a need to discontinue violent rhetoric and resolve any electoral disputes by lawful and peaceful means;
- The start of the rainy season might also hamper the turnout for the voter registration exercise as some citizens will prioritize their farms over going to register.
- The IEC should institute a weekly press briefing to update citizens on the progress of the exercise as well as respond to the various issues and concerns surrounding the exercise as a means to dispel misinformation hence protect the integrity of the voter exercise;
- The Inter-Party Committee should assume a front role in the issues surrounding elections so as to serve as a guide in holding its members and supporters accountable in upholding the principles and standards of electioneering.
- In that regard, the IPC must be seen to proactively and urgently intervene in any instance that seeks to cause conflicts or undermine the peaceful conduct of elections and the overall integrity of the electoral process.
- The management of the ongoing tensions over the registration exercise requires a legal framework that can facilitate the resolution of disputes throughout the electoral process;
- Political parties should continue to sensitize their supporters and the general citizenry who are yet to register to do so before the end of the voter registration exercise;
- Political parties should advise their militants to refrain from spreading false information on social media about the voter registration exercise which could undermine the integrity of the exercise and the credibility of the IEC as well as serve as a catalyst for electoral violence;
- The media should continue to play an active role in the country’s electoral process by ensuring equitable and fair coverage of all election-related activities throughout the electoral cycle;
- Civil society should continue to sensitize the masses on the importance of participation in the electoral process as a civic right and responsibility;
- CSOs should intensify media advocacy (radio &TV) to promote peaceful conduct of elections in The Gambia.