By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
The Director of Communications for the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Mr Makan has clarified that no voter was turned away from voting for not wearing a facemask during the recently concluded 4th December 2021 Presidential Election as claimed by at least two political parties.
The IEC Communications Chief made these clarifications at a press briefing with the media and political stakeholders on 27th January 2022 focusing on the upcoming National Assembly Elections slated for 9th April 2022.
Claim: Speaking exclusively to our reporter Mr Khan explained that the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the National Reconciliation Party (NRP) had complained about their supporters being stopped from voting because they failed to wear a mask in polling stations at Bakau New Town, Latrikunda and Banjul – McCarthy Square.
Fact Check: According to the IEC Communications Chief when they received the complaints, they attempted to verify the claim by contacting their polling station to ascertain if anybody was turned away for not wearing a facemask and were informed that such an incident never happened.
To independently verify the IEC’s checks, our reporter contacted two domestic observers during the Presidential Elections in; Gambia Participates and the Elections Watch Committee run by the ACTIVISTA, Peace Ambassadors and the National Youth Parliament.
Mr Yankuba Manjang an Elections Observer with Peace Ambassadors describes the laxed Covid 19 regulations they observed. According to the Peace Ambassador Executive Secretary, Mr Manjang “during the Election, the COVID19 health guidelines where loosely observed most especially washing of hands and observing social distance. However, IEC Officials and some voters put on Facemask”.
Asked if any voters were turned away due to not wearing a face mask, Mr Manjang responded to say their “observers did not report any incident of voters being turned away for failing to put on a facemask”.
Program Assistant working at Gambia Participates, Fanta Sanneh told our reporter that “as per the data received from our observers on the ground, situations of such nature didn’t occur. Persons were allowed to exercise their voting rights”.
All two of the organisations contacted informed our reporter that they did not register any case of voters being turned away from the polling station because of not wearing a facemask.
During the aforementioned stakeholders meeting, Mr Khan voluntarily made the clarification below to members of the media and political stakeholders.
According to the IEC Communications Chief “we know that this Pandemic is here to stay, maybe not for long but for now. But people are also advised to come to polling station on election day with a mask to have access into the polling station.”
“However, we had reports from some quarters that some people where being denied voting because they didn’t come with a mask. I think we came out to refute this this didn’t happen anywhere in any polling station in the Gambia. Because we know wearing of masks by the general public is regulation medical regulation and voting is somebody’s fundamental human right so I don’t think we can exchange the two.”
“So, the polling staff at polling station will definitely encourage every voter to come in and vote wearing facemasks but if the person chooses not to wear a facemask there is nothing, they can do to force the person to do so. Or there is nothing they can do to deny that person his or her fundamental right. Actually, this should be made very clear here. We have the media we have the political parties and we have the CSOs. All key partners in the electoral process that no single voter was ever denies voting because of facemasks in the Presidential elections and this will replicated come the National Assembly elections.”
“However, we urge all and sundry to encourage people for everyone participating in the election to be safe and let them try to respect the Covid Protocols.”
“I think we have to recognise some of these things we must not trade unfounded information I think it’s not healthy for any process including the electoral process.”
Verdict: The claims by Political Parties that voters were turned away from polling stations and denied the right to vote during the Presidential Elections has not been substantiated and therefore regarded as a False Claim.