The Centre for Research and Policy Development (CRPD) recently convened a meeting of civil society representatives operating at national and grassroots levels to assess the level of preparedness of all electoral stakeholders for the December 2021 presidential election.
This meeting held under the theme, ‘Connecting the Ground,’ took place at Metzy Hotel, from June 26 to 27, 2021 and is the first of a series of monthly meetings that civil society organizations (CSOs) in The Gambia will hold to discuss political developments as well as threats to the upcoming elections and proffer solutions.
The objective of the June 2021 CSO meeting was to: Connect national with regional civil society to maximize resources as well as solidify coordination and collaboration with the grassroots, thereby fostering CSOs speaking with one voice; Assess the level of preparedness for the upcoming elections; Identify gaps, challenges and threats to the upcoming elections, and strategies to address and mitigate them. Participants in this meeting were drawn from community radio journalists, youth, and women activists, Kanyelenges, persons living with disabilities (PWDs) and at least one civil society member from each of the 53-national assembly constituencies. The two-day event kicked off on Saturday 26 June 2021 with an opening session, marked by a keynote speech and a welcoming remark. Anna Jones (Commissioner, Truth and Reparations, Reconciliation Commission) and member of the Civil Society Coalition on Elections shared her experience both locally and internationally on the role of civil society in ensuring credible elections. This was followed by group presentations on the level of preparedness for the presidential elections in each of the seven regions of The Gambia and participants shared as follows: (see next page) 2 CENTRAL RIVER REGION SOUTH – On the factors that might affect peaceful election in the area, the group pointed out that expressions of tribal sentiments remain major concern and could inhibit the peaceful conduct of election in the region and country at large. Another issue observed is related to the use of inflammatory languages. Other issues include the spread of false information on social media such as fake news, misinformation, and disinformation. Women participation impressive, however, youth participation still a concern.
Factors to influence voter turnout include the existence of insufficient polling station, bad road networks, lack of national documents to possess voter’s cards, lack of awareness among the populace on the importance of elections. The determination of people to change government was also noted as a determinant factor to influence voter turnout.
While accessibility of voting centers for physically challenged and older persons was good, peaceful elections will be constrained by hate speech and bad political rhetoric, problems of demography and population (tribal politics), bribing of voters and law enforcement officers, inadequate voter education, improper or lack of well-co-ordinated campaign schedule/itinerary, cross-border registration and voting, absence of agents/ representatives of some political parties in the registration centers and inadequate presence of physical security.
The National Council on Civic Education was doing a good job of mobilizing citizens to participate in the registration exercise as well as the Kerewan Youth Development Association. However, factors that could influence voter turnout include violence, lack of public awareness among the populace, emergence of more political parties, misconception about voter registration and elections, influence from diaspora on electorates and inappropriate messages during campaign.
Lower River Region, noted that accessibility of voter registration centers, the centers are accessible and highly decentralized. However, voter turnout might be influenced by change in political environment, anchored on democratization and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, radio talk shows, effective overall sensitization by CSOs on the importance of elections. UPPER RIVER REGION – People tend to take the law into their hands, and this is likely to affect peaceful elections. Equally, personal grievances, political parties not sensitizing their followers correctly, free, and fair election, political maturity. On women and youth participation, it was stated that the region is experiencing a high level of participation of women and youth in the electoral process, and they serve as party agents in the current registration.