We cannot overemphasise the importance of public scrutiny in our democracy. It allows eligible voters to review nomination papers submitted by presidential candidates. Essentially, this means ensuring due diligence in the exercise following a candidate’s full disclosure and ensuring that a full and fair review of a candidate’s qualifications is conducted in line with the Elections Act. It should be made accessible to the general public so that voters can be fully informed about the qualifications, assets, and health status of a presidential candidate.
Drawing from the Elections Act 1996, one can argue that the process of public scrutiny was too short for the Independent Electoral Commission to conduct a comprehensive, extensive, and thorough review, verification, and vetting exercise in determining whether the candidates are eligible to run for president. Did the electoral body conduct proper checks on the participants to ensure they were registered voters before allowing them to take part in the exercise? Your guess is as good as mine and I believe some were unregistered voters, others represented foreign media outlets, and others failed to conduct the exercise without bias. The question that begs an answer is, Has the process of reviewing documents been exhausted and sufficient for the public to properly examine presidential candidates? In my opinion, such an important activity should have been given the time and attention it deserved for the public to know and have an extensive surgical report of each candidate’s health, qualifications, and declared assets.
Below are my arguments:
On the residency criterion and if properly reviewed some could be disqualified. It is stated 5 years and it does not mean one has to stay for that extended period but one must, at least by law, be established to have been in the country for a period of 180 days in a course of a year. Based on this yardstick, one can argue that the country does not have an electronic data management system at our borders (air, sea, and land) to capture and record information regarding those entering and leaving our country including its citizens. We have porous borders, and many could’ve entered the country through the official and unofficial borders without being registered upon entry or arrival. Was this thoroughly investigated to know those who are qualified for president under this criterion?
b. On the disqualification of both Citizens’ Alliance of Dr. Ceesay and Mai Fatty’s Gambia Moral Congress
It is obvious that not meeting the required nomination threshold of 200 registered voters for each administrative area will result in one being automatically disqualified. That provision is clearly stated in the Elections Act. There could be a data tabulation error from the IEC as we have heard from both CA and Mai Fatty countering the IEC’s disqualification criteria that they had submitted more than the 200 signatures required from the administrative areas they were disqualified from. Based on this, one can argue and infer that the IEC could have erred unintentionally in its data tabulation exercise and that is inevitable. On the other hand, the disqualifications of both political parties could emanate from having the same registered voters collected with other political parties who made earlier submissions, and those names were cut off from their list, thus decreasing their numbers, which resulted in falling short of the required number. That is a possibility. So, the question is, what has gone wrong? Therefore, I am giving both IEC and the complainants the benefit of the doubt as the law provides to set the records straight.
c. An assault on constitutionalism
Fidelity to justice is paramount in our democracy and governance, and any intentional oversight at the altar of convenience to validate moral turpitude and treasonable offenses in our jurisprudence is counterintuitive and an assault on law and constitutionalism. In this context and based on law both the Criminal Code Act and the 1997 Constitution provide provisions that sufficiently barred Tamsir Jasseh and Papa Faal from running for president. Therefore, they should not have been allowed in the first instance to have participated in our electoral process. Their candidacy should’ve been rejected outright on receipt of their application as they had committed a treasonable offense on the republic and served as accessories to unseat a sitting and democratically elected government. That alone disqualifies them to seek and run for president in The Gambia.
d. IEC taking the easy way out to reach and make its decision
Upholding law and ensuring its applicability should not be a matter of choice to take the easy way out. Doing so is an assault on constitutionalism as it will lead to a precipice of a crisis, a constitutional crisis for that matter and this could have been averted by the nation’s electoral body in exhausting all the laws of the land in its decisions on candidates’ qualifications and disqualifications. The question is why was the IEC banking and placing its decisional fate on the provisions of section 42 (1, 2, 3 & 7), and section 92 (2) on elections ethics & 47 (1) of the Elections Act and not that of the 1997 constitution? Are there no other sections in the said act extensively elaborating the other set criterion on candidate’s disqualification in the nomination process? Of course, there are and why weren’t the provisions in the 1997 constitution not cited as a reference case in their decisions? Your guess is as good as mine! One will further argue that the IEC should have known better by exhaustively applying all the substantive provisions as per the 1997 constitution which is the Grundnorm to determine the eligibility of a candidate to run for president in The Gambia. Interesting to note, one could further opine that the IEC has failed in its mandate, hence setting up bad precedence in our electoral laws?
Discussion on what next after the public scrutiny
Those disqualified will file for an appeal under section 49 (5) and if the appeal is not honored by the IEC “they shall not be called into question in any court of law”. This shuts down the window of opportunity for complainants who have been disqualified within the parameter of the IEC’s legal remits. However, they can seek redress in our courts and that is another process, considering the timing and how long it will take to have a judgment delivered by the Supreme Court of The Gambia for such a sensitive case to test the application and interpretations of provisions of our statute books in our court systems. Given the fact that it is less than a month to the election and time is of the essence as party supporters are in shock, dismay, and doubt as their fate is hanging in the pendulum swing and not knowing what may be the outcome.
This is not the time to reset the button of expectations for those who seek elective public offices, particularly that of office of the president of the republic. There is no magic to run for president neither is it in leadership and political governance as all it takes is the courage of conviction, the fidelity for justice, and the conscience of having the core competence, mental ability with the prepared mind and the willing heart, the passion to drive a compelling vision of hope that is realistic, workable, and centered on economic realities and not on the binary lenses of a utopian illusion, but anchored on the prism of human security and development for the greater good to deliver results, change lives and bring meaningful socio-economic development and not bankrolling problems in a form of cheques to be transferred to the electorate as the price for their rents. The presidency is not a reality show and those interested must put in the efforts needed with the depth of unquestionable character, the temperament, and aspirants must be serious to articulate their plans, policies, and programs, and vision
To conclude, the IEC has been tested and it must muster the courage to win the public trust in managing elections and not allow voters to be skeptical and question its capability, competence, and credibility. We have too much to lose if we fail to do the right thing for fidelity to justice and the application of the rule of law as the constitution provides for the country. We must not become accessories to bankroll impunity and an assault on constitutionalism to the republic. Let us get to work and be servants in the cause of justice and fairness.