By Binta S Jawo
Gambia Participates, a civil society organization that focuses on fiscal transparency and financial malpractices in The Gambia, conducted a stakeholder dialogue on Electoral Reforms with support from National Endowment for Democracy (NED) on Friday 26th August 2022.
Among the stakeholders present were representatives from Political Parties, Civil Society, National Assembly Members, Independent Electoral Commission and the media. Voter registration, Reforms on internal party structures, Nomination, publication of election results and political campaigns were some of the topics discussed during the dialogue. Some of the more controversial points of the deliberation include voter buying, acquisition of voter cards and eligibility for voting during elections.
Delivering his opening statement, the Executive Director of Gambia Participates, Marr Nyang urged stakeholders to discuss the issues around elections in a bid to improve the country’s newfound democracy. He noted that one of the objectives of the discussion was to promote the approval of the Electoral Reforms bill before the local government elections next year.
The discussion was held under the context that the Electoral Reforms Bill has already been tabled at the National Assembly. It’s worth noting that a new Elections Bill was tabled in Parliament during the tenure of the Fifth Legislature. This meeting afforded Parliamentarians the opportunity to take note of citizens’ concerns which could be addressed via the new Elections Bill.
The current Elections Decree was issued in 1996 by the APRC Government after seizing power via a coup. The Elections Decree was promulgated a year before the 1997 Constitution came into force. Most elections in the Gambia are regulated by the Elections Decree and the 1997 Constitution, this includes the Presidential and the National Assembly Elections.
Besides the Elections Decree and the 1997 Constitution, the Local Government Act is another regulation which regulates the conduct of local government elections for Mayors and Councillors.
Various stakeholders took turns to share ideas of how the Elections Bill could be improved.
Stakeholders present urged Alkalos to be honest in the issuance of attestation forms to people during voter registration as it is one of the root causes of most of the disagreements affecting elections in the country.
The Independent Electoral Commission’s Chief Electoral Officer, Sambujang Njie explained that they expect citizens to use the revising courts as a peaceful means of resolving some of the disagreements around the registration of Non-Gambians rather than taking the law into their own hands. He added that the responsibility of announcing election results rests solely on the shoulders of the IEC as mandated by the Electoral Laws.
National Assembly member for Bundunka Kunda, Hon Sulayman Jammeh argued that more time should be allocated to candidates for the submission of documents by submitting their documents before the day of nominations so that candidates that need to provide missing documents will have sufficient time to do so. Applicants who are rejected can also have enough time to go to court.
Hon Musa Badjie of Talingding Kunjang opined that the IEC should do more to create equal preparation time for candidates because during the last Presidential Nominations some candidates were given more time to submit their applications than others. In his view, this was not fair.
Representing the Inter-Party Committee was Mr Dodou Jah of the Association for the Patriotic Reorientation and Construction who urged the IEC to look into the registration of voters in Banjul. In his view, the small number of registered voters in Banjul means that it’s difficult for all the candidates to get the required number of signatures to qualify without duplications. This eventually leads to some candidates being disqualified.