By Omar Bah
The opposition Gambia For All leader, Bakary Dabo, and four other Gambians have initiated a lawsuit against the Attorney General as first defendant and the Independent Electoral Commission as second defendant for discriminating against Gambians living abroad.
The other plaintiffs include: Cherno M Njie – second plaintiff, Pa Samba Jow – third plaintiff, Jeggan Grey-Johnson – fourth plaintiff and Sidi Sanneh – fifth plaintiff.
The plaintiffs are seeking a declaration that the amendments to Section 105 (1) inserting paragraphs (f) and (g) a d Subsection (2) (i) and (j) and also amending Subsection (2) (f) of Elections Act Cap 3.01 Vol. 1 of the Laws of The Gambia by Section 17 of the Elections (Amendment) Act 2015 are unconditional and therefore null and void.
In the civil suit defended by Hawa Sisay-Sabally, counsel for the plaintiffs, the five also want the Supreme Court to strike out Section 105 (1) €, (f), and (g) and Subsection (2) (f), (i) and (j) of the Elections Act as amended by Section 17 of the Elections (Amendment) Act, 2015.
They also want an order directing the IEC to register Gambians living outside The Gambia to enable them participate in all public elections and referenda.
The plaintiffs contended that the legislative authority “extensively” made “excessive” and “discriminatory” changes of the Elections Act of the Laws of The Gambia in 2015.
They said although they are interested in the governance of country and would like to exercise their political rights either as independent or members of political parties, they have been marginalised since 1997 even though the IEC is mandated under Section ll (1) of the Elections Act to prepare, compile and maintain a register of voters in foreign countries.
Dabo said he had to give up his UK residency in order to qualify to be an executive member of his political party.
“It is an onerous condition to require all political parties applying for registration after the commencement of the Elections (Amendment) Act, 2015 to pay a registration fee of D1,000,000 and to submit a declaration signed by at least ten thousand registered voters with at least one thousand members from each administrative area pledging their support to the party and requesting for its registration. This condition does not apply to parties that have previously been registered and is therefore discriminatory,” he argued.
He said, though Gambia for All Party was registered under protest he is not even permitted by law to be ordinarily resident in The Gambia to be an executive member of the party.
Cherno M Njie, a real estate developer based in Texas, USA, said: “I want to be eligible to contest for position in the executive of the political party of my choice, enjoying all the rights of a Gambian resident in The Gambia under the electoral laws of the country.”
Pa Samba Jow, the third plaintiff, a political activist and a member of the Democratic Union of Gambia activists also contended that he has been disenfranchised since 1996 because he lives in United States.
Jow said he would like to participate either in his personal capacity as an independent or as a member of a political party and is desirous of being eligible to be a member of the executive committee or body of the political party he may choose to belong.
Jeggan Grey-Johnson, the fourth plaintiff like the others said he wants to be eligible to be a member of the executive of the party he may choose to join.
Sidi Sanneh, the fifth plaintiff and a retired, public servant said he would like to participate in the politics of the country enjoying the same rights and privileges given to Gambians resident in The Gambia.
Right to vote and contest elections
The plaintiffs have strongly asserted their Gambian citizenship in their complaint and emphasised that the 1997 Constitution guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms, political rights and the right to freedom of association guaranteed as discrimination.