By Amara Thoronka
Gambia Participates, a governance-based civil society organization in The Gambia, on Sunday 10th April 2022 updated the media on its findings in the just concluded national assembly elections, highlighting recommendations to enhance better and participatory elections in the future.
Giving update on their findings, Executive Director and Head of Gambia Participate’s Election Observers Mission, Marr Nyang, said they observed disruption of the voting process in some polling stations.
“The voting process was disrupted in Chamen Polling Station in the Nianija constituency by a voter. This happened when the incumbent Adama Camara visited the polling station to inspect the placement of the ballot drums. The voter demanded the parliamentarian to vacate the polling booth and this resulted in a push and pull which disrupted the voting process. An altercation was also reported between supporters of the UDP and NPP at the Nawlaru polling station in Central Baddibu. A candidate of the UDP was allowed into the voting area by the presiding officer to observe the set-up of the ballot drums, NPP supporters were however not happy with the decision and this led to verbal assaults and disruption of the voting process.”
Mr. Marr Nyang also disclosed that they witnessed the intimidation and harassment of voters. “A suspected State Intelligence Service (SIS) agent was seen taking snapshots of voters around the polling station in Munyagen Health Center in Jokadou at about 1:45pm. This act provoked a negative reaction from UDP voters who felt violated and intimidated. Chaos broke out which delayed the voting process.”
He cited the suspension of voting in certain polling stations.
“The voting process was suspended for a short time in Catamina Polling Station in Niamina West when the NUP candidate raised a complaint that his party’s color was not reflected on the ballot drum. He alleged that the IEC presented a black and white ballot drum. This was discovered at about 2:00pm when the NUP was making a tour of polling stations. The IEC however, after the complaint raised by the candidate, brought out the ballot drums for all party agents to confirm the respective colors before the ballot boxes were returned to the polling booth in the presence of the complainant. Similarly, in Foni Brefet Bajana polling station, a fight ensued between the Presiding Officer and some angry voters aboard a commercial vehicle. The presiding officer was attacked by these angry voters. The incident was later reported to the nearest police station so as to restore calm and order in the polling station for the voting to continue.”
The Executive Director noted that they observed vote buying.
“Vote buying was reported in New Town – Lower Basic School Polling station of Bakau Constituency. NPP supporters were seen distributing funds to voters to buy their votes. An NPP supporter was also seen giving money to voters in Jambanjelly Market in Kombo South.”
He added that they recorded an incidence of violence in Old Yundum.
“The councilor for Sinchu Alagie Ward and the NPP alliance supporters were seen canvassing for votes in Medina Sey Kunda (Sinchu Alagie) Bantaba in Old Yundum. Supporters of PDOIS raised objections and a fight ensued between the supporters of the two parties at the polling station.”
In its recommendations, Gambia Participates noted that National Assembly should accelerate the consideration of legislation to harmonize elections in the country to improve voter participation, advising that elections should not be conducted during Ramadan and Lent as such can have impact on voter turnout.
“As observed, conducting elections during major events such as the religious observances of Ramadan and Lent may have impacted turnout in the elections. The IEC should reconsider adjusting its election calendar to ensure no election or major election activities are conducted during such events in order not discourage participation.”
It further recommended for swift electoral reforms to improve the electoral system in The Gambia, especially in election data consistency.
The governance based civic society organization called on the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to improve accessibility to venues such as polling stations used for election administration and also relocate polling stations that are not conducive in order to increase access for persons with disability.
In enhancing transparency, it recommended for the IEC to publish polling station-level election results on its website.
Gambia Participates urged political parties to fulfill The Gambia’s commitments to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, which the country ratified in 2005, by introducing systematic changes to their internal structures that guarantee women in at least 50% of elected offices.
The organization emphasized that civil society and development partners should support capacity strengthening initiatives to the 6th National Assembly, especially the newly elected candidates to strengthen their parliament’s oversight work.