By Omar Bah
The leader of the United Democratic Party has appealed to the National Assembly to use its discretion to initiate a Supplementary Appropriation Bill to ensure the diaspora is registered to vote in December.
The veteran politician was speaking at a meeting of at least ten political parties who are in dialogue with lawmakers on the Elections Bill.
The dialogue, held at the parliament yesterday, was organised by the National Assembly’s Joint Committee of Regional Government and Lands, Ombudsman and IEC, and Human Rights and Constitutional Affairs.
“There has to be political will. If there is an issue of funding, your committee can bring this to the National Assembly – let there be a Supplementary Appropriation Bill. We have had supplementary appropriation bills to fund things. So we have to invest in our democracy,” Ousainu Darboe said.
He said Gambians in the diaspora have been continuously contributing towards the country’s economy and if they do so, they should have a say in the government that governs their country and the only way that can be achieved is to extend the franchise. “So I suggest that the registration of Gambians in the diaspora should go along with availing them the opportunity to vote,” he said.
Darboe said the laws that empower the diaspora to vote should just “not be made when what is in fact entailed in the law is not being implemented. It is as good as not making any law”.
“I don’t think it is right and they cannot say because the foreign countries have not been demarcated and so the diaspora cannot vote,” he said. He said Europe proper, the Nordic countries, East, West and South America and West, Eastern and Southern and Northern Africa can be demarcated into constituencies. “So, the issue of not having constituencies demarcated for me is not an answer. There has to be that political will,” he said.
Darboe admitted that attestations were in the past subject to abuse. “So, there is need for control because doing away with attestation completely will disenfranchise quite a number of people but what I do not agree with and what I do not support is that the chiefs should be one of the persons to attest. So I will suggest that we do away with the chiefs”, he suggested.
He also suggested the reintroduction of interviews by registration officers to ensure people are properly vetted before they are registered to vote.
Commenting on a question on whether the electoral commission should accept grants or donations from outside sources, Darboe said: “We are all concerned that we want the IEC to be an institution that is controlled by no one – that is not been made to really serve any purpose other than conducting its affairs in an impartial manner”.
“We would suggest that the IEC should receive grants to disclose the identity of the grantor or the donor. We are expressing these concerns because we are political parties and we believe that if the IEC receives grants from some other sources, they will probably favour the grantor or the donor but with the identity of the donor or grantor disclosed to IPC, they can make informed decisions,” he said.
The GMC leader, Mai Fatty also suggested for the chiefs to be deleted from issuing attestation for would-be voters. Fatty said the birth certificate should also be deleted from the requirements for acquiring voter’s cards.
“It is absolutely very easy to obtain a birth certificate within a very short period of time. That is the reality – if you want a birth certificate, you can obtain one in less than a few hours. Now for election purposes, a birth certificate is just a piece of paper with no identification attached to it. So we believe apart from the ID Card and passport – the alkalo in addition to a compound head should be enough,” he added.
The political party representatives also raised issues of deposit for presidential candidate. The parties are also unhappy with the bill’s proposal that presidential candidates, who failed to secure 40 percent of the votes, will lose their deposit. They demanded that the clause be revisited.