By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
The Gambia’s Ministry of Justice has published the Constitutional Review Commission’s (CRC’s) Draft Constitution in the Gazette for the second time, paving the way for the Draft Constitution to be tabled at the National Assembly on or after 7th September 2020. It can be recalled that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) published an Electoral Calendar scheduling the Constitutional Referendum on Saturday 5th June 2021. However, many have raised concerns that the Diaspora Voters’ registration is scheduled for July 2021, after the Constitutional Referendum, ruling them out of the Plebiscite which will promulgate The Gambia’s Third Republic.
In a Gainako exclusive interview with the IEC Chairperson, Alieu Momar Njai in June he clarified that the current voter register will not be used, “we have to have a completely new voter registration to conduct the referendum”. This places more importance on the voters register for the next elections.
According to the IEC’s Electoral Calendar, voter registration will be conducted within The Gambia from 14th January 2021 to 26th February 2021. Gambians in the Diaspora will be able to register from abroad for the first time from 1st July 2021 to 31st July 2021. Unfortunately, the schedule also indicates that the Constitutional Referendum will be held on 5th June 2021, a month before Diaspora Gambians will be registered to vote. This will rule out the possibility for Gambians to vote from abroad in the Constitutional Referendum.
Repealing the 1997 Constitution for the new Draft Constitution
According to clause 667 of the Report of the Constitutional Review Commission on the Draft Constitution for the Third Republic of The Gambia “The 1997 Constitution under section 226 outlines how the provisions of the Constitution may be altered or amended”. The 1997 constitution provides for the procedure for the amendment of entrenched and non-entrenched clauses. The CRC process seeks to replace the 1997 constitution in its entirety and replace it with a new constitution. For this purpose, both entrenched and non-entrenched clauses would be effectively amended.
This is the reason why a bill is introduced to promulgate a new constitution and repeal the 1997 constitution. According to the process laid out in section 226 of the constitution as explained in detail below, the draft constitution will only be subject to a referendum after it successfully goes through three readings and enjoys the support of 3/4 of NAMS on the 2nd and 3rd reading.
First, Second and Third Parliamentary Readings
According to Provision 226 (2) (a) of the 1997 Constitution “before the first reading of the Bill in the National Assembly, the Bill is published in at least two issues of the Gazette, the latest publication being not less than three months after the first, and the Bill is introduced into the National Assembly not earlier than ten days after the latest publication.”
The first publication of the Draft Constitution Bill in the Gazette was done on 28th May 2020 and the second publication in the Gazette was done on the 28th of August 2020. This means that the first reading of the Bill in the National Assembly can be done on or after the 7th of September 2020.
After the Bill is tabled for the first reading the Constitution demands that “the Bill is supported on the second and third readings by the votes of not less than three-quarters of all the members of the National Assembly” to proceed on to the next phase.
If National Assembly members don’t vote for the Bill in the second and third readings the process will be brought to a halt and a referendum will not be held. If the National Assembly votes in favour, fulfilling the three-quarters threshold which is 42 National Assembly members voting in favour then the Bill “will be referred by the Speaker to the Independent Electoral Commission and the Commission has, within six months of such reference” to hold a Referendum on the Bill.