The Gambian government has denied claims, suggesting that it is not interested in conducting free, fair, and transparent elections. The elections have been scheduled for December 4th 2021. The Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Electoral Commission was quoted by the local media as having said that the government wasn’t committed to organizing a transparent election. This followed, errors contained in the election bill that was earlier presented in Parliament by the Justice Minister.
The IEC CEO said the bill hasn’t reflected the information that his office had presented to the Justice Ministry. For example, he said, there were 53 constituencies in the country, while the tabled bill only indicates 41.
Information Minister Ebrima Sillah said some of the errors contained in the bill has since been corrected.
“The substance of the main bill still carried the weight as per the negotiations and discussions that were held between and among the political parties themselves. So, this schedule thing was immediately corrected and reattached, reflecting the latest constituency situation of the country,” Sillah said.
Sillah describes the IEC CEO’S statement as unfortunate.
“It is quite unfortunate that these utterances came from the Chief Electoral Officer, knowing fully that the document that is now before the National Assembly have been gone through process and also knowing that the major stakeholders, in terms of, when I say here the major stakeholders, I mean the political parties, some of them have their representatives at the National Assembly. You don’t expect us to go and present a distorted document,” Information Minister Ebrima Sillah told me.
Sillah said the government is indeed interested in organizing free, fair, and transparent elections.
“Now regarding the sincerity or lack of it about the conduct of the elections in a credible, free, and fair manner, I think the records speaks for themselves. In addition to supporting the independent electoral commission in providing all logistics and budgetary allocations, the government of The Gambia, is working with the electoral commission through legislative process to ensure that we have a clean document that is acceptable by all,” he said.
Sillah went further to explain some of the issues of concern that the government has regarding the election bill.
“One of the issues has to do with the use of ballot paper in the upcoming election which was suggested by the IEC. The government of The Gambia, actually through cabinet discussed this matter and we thought it necessary that since this was never tested in any of the elections in The Gambia, it could be risky to introduce something that you have never tested in a major election like this, the stakes are high,” Sillah remarked.
Justice Minister Dawda Jallow told the local West Coast radio station on Thursday that the government has no legal mandate to change constituency boundaries.
“The government doesn’t even have the mandate to change constituency boundary. It is the IEC, currently under the current laws because previously it was meant to be done by the constituency boundary commission if it is established,” the Justice Minister said.
Under the proposed bill, local government leaders are empowered to provide attestations for undocumented citizens to secure voters cards. The regional chiefs are appointed by the government, while Alkalos are selected by the community.
“If people said undocumented Gambians can get authorization from their local authorities confirming their nationality and they are Gambians, they should be entitled to be registered and vote, that is not for us, the Ministry of Justice or government, that’s what the people of The Gambia want and that’s what political parties want. For me, I think we just need to think how do we regulate the attestation process. But if you remove attestation in the requirement for the qualification to register, a lot of Gambians will be disenfranchised,” Justice Minister Jallow remarked.
Meanwhile, the IEC has decided to walk back from the statement that was attributed to its Chief Executive officer. Commission Chairman Alieu Mamar Njie told me that his CEO was misquoted by the media. He said CEO Njie has never accused the government of not being committed to organizing transparent elections. ” He never said that. It was cooked up. We will organize a press briefing tomorrow to clear the air,” Mr. Njie told me.
Information Minister Sillah said the Barrow government is a democratic government and would not condone gerrymandering.