5 October 2017

Gambia: EU Election Observation Mission Report Part 1

The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to The Gambia has released its Final Report, in which it states that Extensive Legal Reforms and Continued Civic Education will be critical for the Gambia's Democratic Development.

In our Monday Edition, we promised the readers that we will serialize the report in subsequent editions. We begin the first part of the serialization, with the Executive Summary of the report:-

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

On 6 April 2017, The Gambia held its first National Assembly elections since the end of 22 years of authoritarian rule under President Yahya Jammeh.

Following an invitation from the Government of The Gambia and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) was present in The Gambia from 13 March to 26 April 2017.

The Mission was led by Chief Observer Miroslav Poche, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP).

In total, the EU EOM deployed 56 observers from 27 EU Member States, as well as from Norway and Switzerland, across the country to assess the entire electoral process in accordance with the international and regional obligations and commitments to genuine and transparent elections and the laws of The Gambia.

The last National Assembly elections, held in 2012, were largely boycotted by the opposition.

Prior to the 2016 presidential election, seven political parties and an independent candidate formed the Coalition 2016, backing Adama Barrow, a former deputy treasurer of the United Democratic Party (UDP), as an independent candidate.

President Barrow won the single round presidential election with 43.3 per cent of the votes, against 39.6 for the then incumbent President Jammeh of the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC).

Mamma Kandeh, of the newly formed Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC), received 17 per cent of the votes.

President Jammeh initially accepted but subsequently rejected the election results. Following domestic and international pressure, Jammeh went into exile on 21 January 2017, after several weeks of political stalemate under high tension.

President Barrow was initially sworn in to office at the Gambian Embassy in Dakar, Senegal, on 19 January and was inaugurated a month later in Banjul.

A government was then formed integrating representatives of the Coalition 2016. The National Assembly is comprised of 58 members.

53 Members of the unicameral National Assembly are elected for a five-year mandate through the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system in single-member constituencies.

A review of the constituency boundaries in 2015 increased the number of elected members in parliament from the then 48 to 53.

Five additional members are appointed by the president. The nomination of candidates took place between 9 and 12 March and resulted in a total of 239 candidates representing all nine registered political parties, as well as 42 independent candidates.

No candidate nominations were rejected by the IEC. Only 20 among the nominated candidates were women (8.4 per cent).

The political parties of the Coalition 2016 decided to present candidates under the banners of their individual political parties.

On 7 April, the IEC announced the overall results of the National Assembly elections.

The UDP won 31 seats, falling just short of a two-thirds majority. This was followed by the former ruling party APRC with 5, the GDC with 5, the NRP with 5, PDOIS with 4, PPP with 2 and a single independent candidate.

The legal framework provides an adequate basis for the conduct of elections which are in line with the international obligations and commitments of The Gambia.

The broader legal system within which the electoral framework operates has, however, been severely compromised in recent years.

The rule of law has been significantly undermined, particularly through a progressive erosion of the independence of the judiciary.

The Gambia is a State Party to most international legal instruments which relate to human rights and the conduct of elections, much of which were entirely ignored by the previous Gambian government.

The legal rules relating to the National Assembly elections are to be found across a plethora of legal instruments.

Many areas of law are not well regulated, however, with a dearth of subsidiary legislation.

There are practical problems with access to legal instruments and the dissemination of legal texts in The Gambia.

The IEC is a constitutional body led by a five-member commission.

All its members, including the chairperson, are appointed by the president.

Only one of the five IEC commissioners is a woman.

The Constitution imposes vast responsibilities on the IEC including the registration of voters, the conduct of a continuous programme of voter education, oversight of the campaign, and ensuring that each candidate is given equal time on public radio and television.

In addition, political parties must submit their audited annual accounts to the IEC. Such a plethora of tasks could overburden the IEC.

The IEC does not command its own budget and the current financial mechanisms do not guarantee the IEC's independence.

The IEC has permanent offices in each of the seven regions.

These regional offices lack safe storage facilities as well as electricity and effective means of communication.

The IEC enjoyed broad public confidence among political parties and other stakeholders due to its legacy from the 2016 presidential election, where it defended the election results despite pressure from the authorities.

The IEC did not, however, conduct meetings with political parties or candidates during the election campaign period.

Despite the legal authority for the IEC to issue rules and procedures until six months ahead of elections, the IEC did not issue any additional written procedures on counting and collation for this election, beyond the handbook for polling officials.

The IEC generally managed this electoral process successfully.

However, a lack of transparency still characterised the workings of the IEC.

The Constitution provides for the right to vote of all citizens, of eighteen years of age, with a requirement of either birth or residence in the constituency of registration.

The IEC used the same voter register as for the December 2016 presidential election.

This decision disenfranchised otherwise eligible voters who had turned 18 years of age between 1 December 2016 and 6 April 2017.

In 2016, the IEC conducted a voter registration update ahead of the 2016-2018 election cycle but no deletions of entries, or changing of entries of voters who had moved to different places of residence, were facilitated.

The IEC recorded 89,649 new entries resulting in a total of 886,578 registered voters.

A significant number of deceased persons remain on the voter register. While the voter register needs improvement, political parties accepted the validity of the voters´ roll for these transitional elections.

The 2015 Elections (Amendment) Act substantially increased the legal requirements for the registration of political parties.

These requirements seem excessive and unreasonably limit the freedom of association.

There are no undue restrictions on being nominated as a candidate.

The vast discrepancy in the number of voters per constituency falls far short of ensuring the equality of the vote.

A total of 49 of the 53 constituencies deviated by more than 15 per cent from the national average of 16,728 voters per constituency, with the largest constituency having 23 times as many voters as the smallest one. Given the contemporary history of The Gambia, there is much need for both civic and voter education.

However, only limited funding and time were available. Voter education ahead of the elections started late, and lacked coordination with the public broadcaster The Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS).

Voter education was also conducted by civil society organisations (CSOs), including a voter sensitisation campaign carried out through community and school outreach as well as radio messages.

No voter information or editorial programmes or articles were aired or printed, in the media monitored by the EU EOM, aimed at advancing the political participation of persons with disabilities.

The freedoms of assembly and expression of candidates were well respected during the election campaign.

Political parties, as well as citizens, expressed themselves freely on political matters without fear of persecution.

The three-week campaign period started on 15 March and ended on 4 April.

All applications to conduct rallies were granted by the IEC.

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