Diaspora voting: Failure of government, political parties and civil society

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There is absolutely no reason why Gambians who live abroad should not register and vote in the December 2021 presidential election. If it did not happen it is precisely because the will and commitment of the key stakeholders are lacking. That is the President and his Government, the National Assembly, political parties and the civil society at home and abroad, individually and collectively. These are the institutions, organisations and individuals that bear the obligation to uphold the law and fulfill rights of all Gambians.

The Gambian Constitution, in sections 26 and 39, has clearly guaranteed the right of all Gambians – at home and abroad – to register and vote in public elections. Furthermore Section 11 of the Elections Act demands that Gambians in foreign countries be registered for the purpose of elections. The Supreme Court went further to validate these laws in its ruling in January 2021 that citizens in foreign countries are entitled to be registered and vote in all public elections. Therefore, who is there to stop Gambian citizens in the diaspora from voting?

Apparently, while there is so much talk and even visible desire for the Gambia diaspora to vote, no one is taking the matter seriously enough, amazingly. For example, the claim by the IEC that the laws did not provide for diaspora voting is false. In fact, at the beginning of the year the IEC gave the impression that the diaspora will vote. But a few months later, they now turn around to say diaspora voting will not happen until legal reforms take place. Clearly the IEC does not need any new law or any amendment to make the diaspora vote to take place. The current laws are adequate.


Disappointingly, the claim by the minister of finance that the government did not budget for diaspora voting is untenable. This is because it was the minister himself who placed the budget estimates before lawmakers in December 2020. Why didn’t he put in the necessary resources to ensure the diaspora vote if he and the president were so committed? But while they failed to cater for the diaspora vote, since then we have seen this government place supplementary appropriation bills for projects that they wanted to fund. Why didn’t they seek supplementary appropriation for the diaspora vote as well?

The next question is why did the National Assembly also fail to raise the issue of the diaspora vote when they were presented with the estimates of the 2021 budget? As the body that distributes the national cake, and given the important issue of diaspora voting, one wonders why NAMs, who come from different political parties that have called for diaspora voting, have failed to raise the issue. Where is their political will and leadership?

The failure of the National Assembly to ensure that diaspora voting is budgeted, raises the question as to whether our political parties are indeed serious about diaspora voting? This is because we have all of the major parties represented in the parliament – UDP, NRP, GDC, PDOIS, APRC and PPP and several independents. Therefore, why did they fail to make sure that their representatives secure a budget for diaspora voting? Political parties are the leading stakeholders in this matter because they need the votes which they could get from the diaspora. Therefore, why did they fail to do the needful at the right time?

Meantime our civil society, at home and abroad continue to glamour over the issue of diaspora voting, but what is baffling is why they have not taken the necessary steps vigorously? Yes, some civil society actors did well by going to the Supreme Court to confirm that indeed the diaspora have the right to vote by law. But it was necessary that the civil society agitate further to ensure that the Gambia Government and the IEC indeed go ahead to make it happen as ruled by the Supreme Court. This is where the civil society also failed.

Therefore, what needs to be done now is to take action to make diaspora voting a reality in December 2021, as per the Constitution and the Supreme Court ruling. To do this, there are two ways available right now. One, is for civil society and political parties to go back to the Supreme Court to seek an order for the Government to provide the necessary resources to the IEC to go ahead to register the diaspora and make them vote in December 2021. The second option, is for the political parties to use their NAMs to put a motion on the floor of the parliament to require the Government and the IEC to make the diaspora register and vote. It is not late.

Technically, Gambians in the diaspora can register and vote in December 2021 through the use of technology and Gambian embassies abroad. The ability to develop the necessary online app and forms exist in the Gambia for the IEC to obtain. Almost every democratic country on earth – rich or poor – has guaranteed the franchise to their diaspora. How therefore can the Gambia be an exception? The only reason the diaspora is denied the franchise therefore rests squarely on the failure of the Gambia Government, the National Assembly, political parties and the civil society to do what needed to be done. That’s all.