By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
For the Diaspora to Vote, the Executive (Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs in particular), the National Assembly and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) must manifest the Political will to secure the Diaspora Vote.
1. Firstly, the IEC and the Ministry of Justice must ensure the right legislation is in place. To date, only the Elections Bill 2020 has been table which was pioneered by the IEC and the Ministry of Justice. There are some additional Constitutional Amendments which are needed to be tabled by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). These amendments include legislating Diaspora Constituencies required for National Assembly Elections.
In my perspective (ordinary layman) Diaspora Constituencies are only needed for National Assembly and Local Gov Elections. Given the short time scales, it would be prudent to register the Diaspora in one of the 53 existing constituencies that they originate from for the December 2021 Presidential Elections.
After the Elections, the Diaspora Constituencies can be discussed and agreed via a political process and legislated before the National Assembly Elections. Prioritizing is needed. Waiting to register Gambians in a Diaspora Constituency before the December 2021 Elections is a pipe dream in my view.
2. For the Bill and Constitutional Amendments to become law the National Assembly must pass them into law which the President will assent. To date, the only Elections Bill 2020 has been tabled by the MoJ and is currently hanging at the National Assembly. The National Assembly is responsible for ensuring that the Bills are passed at the appropriate time for the Diaspora.
In my humble layman understanding (again) I strongly believe that if the National Assembly doesn’t call an extraordinary session soonest there is no way the Elections Bill will be passed before the Voters Registration commences. This needs to happen fast for the Diaspora to register with Gambians in the country starting 29th May 2021.
*If all the laws have been prepared by the IEC and MoJ and the National Assembly passes them into law then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) have to seal the deal and implement the elections with the IEC. This will be further legislated in an Act if needed or the proposed Elections Act if a separate Diaspora Act is not passed.
3. Finally, the last buck stops at the MoFA who must organise the ground and the Gambians living abroad. To date, the most comprehensive statistics for Gambians Abroad is by US-based Economist and Statistician C Omar Kebbeh who reports that 141,000 Gambians live abroad in 2020.
Let’s imagine that the laws are now in place the MoFA under the direction of the IEC (I would imagine as the Institution responsible for elections) must disseminate elections information to eligible Diaspora Gambians and identify polling locations as well as electoral officials. Then Diaspora Gambians will be registered and given a voters card to vote at the next Presidential Elections. There would need to be similar mobilisation of personnel and resources for the voting day as well.
At the moment there is still a possibility for the Diaspora to Vote if the Institutions work with the Diaspora who have invested time and resources to research on the Diaspora Vote for obvious reasons (to vote in the next elections).
For example, if the MoFA works with Mr Kebbeh the statistics of Diaspora Gambians will be addressed in time. If the IEC and the MoJ work with Gambians abroad the legal aspect can be addressed in time. If the National Assembly called for an extraordinary session the right laws will be put in place in time.
All these processes must happen in time for the Diaspora to Vote and that will determine the actual Political will of the Government in fulfilling its promise to the Diaspora to vote in the December 2021 Presidential elections.
Here is a study of where the Diaspora Gambians are located.