By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
In an exclusive interview with the Chairperson of the Gambia’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Alieu Momar Njai, he revealed that the Constitutional Referendum is “unlikely to be held in 2020”. The IEC Chief also revealed that two By-Elections for the Niamina West National Assembly position and Kerr Jarga Councillorship have been postponed indefinitely due to the Coronavirus (Covid 19) Pandemic.
National Assembly Member (NAM) for Niamina West, Hon. Demba Sowe passed away in January 2020 during a trip to Morocco. Speaking to an official at the National Assembly I was informed that the late Hon. Demba Sowe of the Gambia Democratic Congress was not on official business during his trip to Morocco. He was buried at a state funeral conducted at the National Assembly’s premises.
The death of the NAM prompted an announcement dated 13th February 2020 from the IEC that the By-Election was postponed to 16th April 2020 and the Collation Center has been identified as Jangjangbureh Administrative Area. Another Gazette dated 10th March 2020 identified one Anthony Robert Secka as the Returning Officer for the By-Elections.
IEC Postpones Two By-Elections Indefinitely
According to a Gazette published on 27th March 2020, the IEC postponed the Niamina West By-Election indefinitely. The legal notice highlighted that the “postponement is caused by the Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) and its confirmation in The Gambia”.
Speaking to Chairperson, Alieu Momar Njai on 3rd June 2020, he explained that the By-Elections “was supposed to be held on 16th April  but because of this Covid 19 issue we suspended it for the time being. We actually have two, we have one also in Kerr Jarga in North Bank.”
According to a Point Newspaper publication Councilor Alpha M. Khan, resigned from Kerewan Area Council in March 2020 to join President Adama Barrow’s newly formed party National People’s Party.
In his departing words, Councilor Khan who also served as the Vice-Chairperson of Kerewan Area Council said “My decision to resign is prompted by my desire to the adherence of the laws of our beloved country, which we are all obliged to respect as a democratic country. I am now fully supporting President Barrow’s National People’s Party. I can tell you also that I stop supporting GDC almost a year ago.”
After explaining that two By-Elections have been postponed indefinitely it was imperative to know when the By-Elections will be rescheduled. To this, Mr Njai explained that the IEC will have to wait until the Executive gives them the go-ahead to continue. Asked if the IEC was waiting for the conclusion of the State of Public Emergency, Mr Njai said: “yes we need to ensure that people can vote without contracting the virus, by now we would have been conducting voter registration”.
The Gambia does not implement all-year-round voter registration meaning that new voters can only be registered when the voter registration exercise commences. Gainako readers will recall the IEC Chairperson’s statement highlighting the need for a voter registration exercise. Mr Njai told Gainako that “it will take about six to seven weeks to conduct the voter registration exercise”.
IEC Chairperson: Constitutional Referendum Unlikely in 2020
In raising public concerns on the voter register, it was noted that some advocates are concerned about the voter register which they say should be revised to ensure that only eligible voters take part in the Constitutional Referendum and subsequent elections. Some citizens also raise concern that a bloated voter register could make it difficult to achieve 50% voter turnout required for a successful Constitutional Referendum as mandated by provision 226 of the 1997 Constitution.
To this Mr Njai clarified that the current voter register will not be used, “we have to have a completely new voter registration to conduct the referendum”. On the possibility of a referendum taking place in 2020, he said: “we don’t know because the State of Public Emergency has not been lifted”.
Pressed if he thinks it will happen in 2020 he said “it’s unlikely because according to a report heavy rains are expected this year then there will be flooding. It’s not advised to conduct an election during the rainy season but we need to pray to God for this thing [Covid 19 Pandemic] to end because the whole world is in a dilemma.”