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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

CSO Coalition concerned over vote buying, low turnout

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By Omar Bah

The civil society coalition on election (CSO Coalition) has raised concern over the reported vote buying and low voter turnout in Saturday’s local government councillors election.

The alleged reports of vote buying before the election was followed with poor voter turnout. Out of the 962,157 registered voters, only 243,899 voted.

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In its preliminary statement shared with The Standard, the CSO Coalition said: “Both our organisation on and other domestic observers of campaigns and the elections have noted electoral malpractices such as vote buying and use of hate speech and incendiary language which are contrary to the Election Act and the Code of Campaign Ethics in particular. We wish to therefore call on the Inter-Party Committee to strengthen its oversight and accountability stance against political parties and their supporters for such misconduct. In the same vein, we call on all political parties to ensure that their leaders and supporters to abide by election ethics and law and refrain from acts that could undermine the peace, unity, and stability of the country. We have also observed a widespread low voter turnout. This issue raises concern about the level of civic education in our population to realise the importance of local government elections, and elections in general.”

The CSO coalition also observed that the timing of the elections, during Ramadan is concerning as it serves as an inhibiting factor preventing voters from exercising their franchise.

“Furthermore, the separation of the councillor elections from the election of mayors and chairpersons has been noted to be counterproductive and expensive. We are of the opinion that when these two elections are combined in one day it will serve to raise voter turnout significantly. We observed isolated cases of party supporters canvassing votes around polling stations. However, there was no significant interference with the voting process.  There were clashes in and around polling stations as well as within the community over the election although these were put under control without posing any disruption to the voting process. It however raises concern about the fact that voters and citizens in general would resort to acts of physical or verbal violence on the issue of elections,” it added.

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The coalition said accessibility for persons with disabilities remains a recurring issue. “It is concerning that IEC continues to position some polling stations or voting booths in places that are either sandy or on stepped platforms thereby posing challenges for voters using wheelchairs, crutches, and other forms of mobility aid,” the coalition added.

IEC chairman

Commenting on the IEC chairman’s tenure, the coalition said: “The tenure of the IEC Chair has been engulfed in controversy since 2017. The recent announcement that the term of the Chair has been extended to 2025 has raised more concerns. We wish to call on the government to therefore review and address this issue with urgency to protect the credibility and independence of the IEC and the integrity of elections.”

“In this same view, we are disturbed by the lack of legal reforms surrounding elections. We are even more concerned that for many years now the Election Bill has not been passed at the National Assembly. The issues of attestation, diaspora voting, campaign financing and the timing and the combining of elections such as councillor and mayoral/chairperson elections among other issues are all pertinent to achieving high voter turnout, the attainment of free and fair elections and the upholding of the rights of all Gambians.

We wish to therefore call on the National Assembly, the government, and the political parties to take urgent steps to ensure that the Election Bill captures all international electoral norms and best practices to ensure free, fair, and transparent elections,” it noted.

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