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 the seven administrative regions to observe the general voter registration exercise. In this preliminary statement, the Coalition offers a summary of key observations in the first ten days of the general 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. The registration exercise does not include Gambians in the diaspora.
As at the end of the first week of registration, IEC has reported that a total of 191,509 were registered, of whom 81,834 are males and 109,675 are females.
Since the start of the registration exercise, we have observed the opening and closing in urban and rural registration centers. Below is a summary of the Coalition’s observation as at 7th June 2021.
- So far, the registration exercise is taking place in a generally peaceful and calm environment with no incidents of violence and restrictions of political party agents at registration centers.
- The majority of registration centers visited opened on time, except for the first day were most centers opened about half an hour late due to delay in setting up the registration centers.
- The voter registration exercise was also delayed in the first two days by technical issues, notably the difficulty in printing of voter’s card. In some registration centers, other equipment such as generators were temporarily faulty.
- On June 2, i.e. 5 days after the start of registration, the exercise was stopped in Somita, Foni Bintang constituency, West Coast Region as the printer could not function well; it had to be transported to Brikama for replacement
- A number of registrants were seen turned away in some registration centers we visited due to various reasons, including being in possession of conflicting documents, expired ID cards and photo copied Alkalo attestations.
- The majority of registration centers visited had a number of party agents present – mostly representing APRC, PDOIS, GDC, NPP, and UDP, and were given access to observe, which demonstrates transparency. However, the Coalition observed that party agents are not sufficiently oriented and are poorly equipped.
- In some registration centers, some party agents were found to be recording each the details of each card printed by IEC officials The Coalition believes this could undermine the process. Party agents should request the number of registered voters at the end of the day.
- We observed intimidation and discrimination of some registrants by political party agents. Similarly, at Tallinding Buffer Zone the ward councilor was said to have attacked the IEC officials for registering an applicant who is believed to understand only one of the local languages, justifying his statement that despite the applicant’s national ID he should not be granted a voter’s card because of his mother tongue and color of his skin.
- There have been incidents of attempted interference in the registration centers by elected ward councilors. At the Latrikunda Sabiji mosque, the elected councilor could be heard asking IEC officials not to register anyone from the said community since the center is under Fajikunda ward; this resulted in the exchange of words with a resident of the community
- The presence of unauthorized persons were observed in some registration centers. In one of the registration centers, precisely at Banjul mini stadium, individuals could be seen brewing China green tea (attaya) within the vicinity of the registration center.
- Security personnel on IEC duty were visibly present inside the registration centers visited but their conduct and comportment have been professional.
- Some Alkalos have been charging fees for signing the attestation forms from applicants. These include the Alkalo of Bundung. Also, the Coalition has received information that some Alkalolu were issuing attestations to individuals not born within their jurisdiction.
- In Bantanding Wollof, Jokadou District a party agent was said to be helping the Alkalo to issue attestations which the Coalition considers that to be unlawful and a conflict of interest for a party agent to facilitate the signing of attestations. According to other reports we have received, it was the Alkalo’s decision since he could not write.
- There have been allegations of issuance of attestation and registration of ineligible persons including minors. Photos emerged on social media of a group of minors been registered in Nimina West Constituency, Central River Region
- A registration center in Bakoteh was inaccessible to persons with disabilities using wheelchairs.
Issues and Concerns
In light of the findings of our preliminary observations, the Coalition wishes to raise the following issues and concerns:
- The apparent interference by alkalolu, party agents and other persons in the process seems to arise as a result of limited sensitization by the IEC.
- The presence of unauthorized persons within the vicinity of registration centers poses potential challenges to the smooth operation of the entire process.
- The incidence of equipment breakdown requires urgent attention in order to not delay the entire process.
- The catering of necessary means for the easy and convenient participation of persons with disabilities in the registration exercise remains a challenge. Until now, some persons with disabilities are finding access to registration places challenging.
- The incidence of conflicting information and diverse sources of information surrounding voter registration have the potential to undermine the process hence affect the credibility of the elections eventually.
- While citizens have a right to freedom of expression and opinion necessary to expose and arrest irregularities, it is noted that such freedoms should be exercised responsibility in order not to unnecessarily undermine the integrity of the IEC and the credibility of the voter registration exercise.
- The major challenge confronting the registration process is the issue of attestation. We observe minors been registered as well as allegation of non-Gambians or even people attempting to forge the attestation or photocopying it. Hence, it has always been the position of the CSO coalition that for Gambia to organize credible election, it must do away with the attestation. We are seeing the challenges it is generating and it high time that conversation around electoral bill address the issue
Government of The Gambia
- The Government of the Gambia should continue to provide the enabling environment for the conduct of the registration exercise. This includes ensuring that local government structures and officials do not interfere or undermine but rather facilitate the process.
- Government and other stakeholders should support media houses with phone in delay equipment to allow media houses cut out or edit inflammatory content of live phone in programs
- The CCE calls on the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to act within the current Gambian Constitutional framework and address the ongoing issue of attestation in the city of Banjul.
- The IEC should provide clear guidance in relation to this issue and expand the attestation process to allow other registered voters, and other notable citizens such as the high court judges or religious leaders to also attest for prospective applicants. At minimum, there should be other nonpolitical individuals who also attest alongside the mayor. Additionally, the IEC should equally provide a cap on the specific number of voters that individuals can attest for.
- The CCE also calls on political parties to engage the IEC to garner buy-in to altering this ongoing issue during the voter registration process.
Political parties have both a unique role and a definite interest in the conduct of a clean voter registration exercise. For that matter, political parties should ensure that their agents serve to facilitate the exercise by cooperating with the IEC and all stakeholders to ensure a smooth exercise.
- Political partis should continue to sensitize their supporters and the citizenry in general to encourage them to go for registration.
- Political parties are urged to advise their supporters well in order to stem the uncontrolled release of false information and rumours about the voter registration exercise. Parties should create a system whereby there is an official channel to receive and release all information that their supporters and agents may come across in order to arrest irregularities and protect the credibility of the voter registration.
- Political parties are advised to check the conduct of their party agents at all the registration centers. Parties should invest in training polling agents and providing them the right knowledge about the electoral process as per the rule and what is expected of polling agents.
The Independent Electoral Commission
- IEC should be proactive in addressing issues that are emerging in the voter registration exercise promptly. This includes providing information to clarify most of the information in the public space.
- The issue of attestation being given by the Mayor of Banjul has proven to be contentious. In order to manage the situation, it is necessary that the IEC issues a public statement to clarify its decision in giving such authority to the Mayor.
- The IEC should engage the IPC for misconduct by party agents instead of threatening to send them away. It is in the best interest of the IEC for party agents to observe the registration exercise.
- The IEC should continue to ensure that its staff upholds the independence and impartiality of the IEC in accordance with the core values of the institution.
- The media should continue to play an active role in the electoral process by ensuring equitable and fair coverage of all regions of the country.
- The youth should remain actively engaged in the electoral and political processes to strengthen the country’s democratic credentials.
- Young people are hereby urged to remain committed to the rule of law and peace to ensure that the voter registration exercise achieves it objective smoothly.
- CSOs should continue to monitor the voter registration exercise closely.
- CSOs should intensify radio/ TV programs to promote peace and ensure a smooth exercise.
The CSO Coalition on Elections is committed to playing an active and positive role in the electoral process in The Gambia. We call on all electoral stakeholders and citizens to remain committed to a peaceful and effective voter registration exercise which is a major milestone in the democratization process of the country since 2017.