By Omar Bah
The EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) has reported several campaign malpractices during the recent presidential election campaign including abuse of state resources by President Barrow’s NPP.
EOM was mandated to observe all aspects of the electoral process and assess the extent to which the elections complied with regional and international commitments for elections, as well as with national legislation.
“The abuse of state resources for campaigning was observed during the election process and provided significant advantage to the incumbent,” the mission said in a statement released yesterday.
According to the statement, the mission directly observed instances of abuse of state resources at six NPP rallies, including the use of government cars and personnel.
“In addition, there were cases where the incumbent endorsed new state projects during the campaign period,” the statement indicated, noting that similar observations were reported by local observers.
The most significant case, the statement highlighted, was reported by EU observers in Kerewan, where the incumbent donated D1 million towards a new hospital during a campaign rally.
“The distribution of various goods during the campaign was a widespread negative phenomenon. The distribution of mainly cooking utensils and milling machines was directly observed at several rallies held by the ruling party,” it added.
The mission added: “There were also widespread allegations of distributions of money through village chiefs reported to EU EOM observers. These illegal practices were also reported by citizen observer groups and media and were in breach of the Elections Act and the IEC Code of Ethics; however no action was taken by the IEC.”
According to the report, Barrow’s main challenger, Ousainu Darboe and his UDP were also seen distributing goods at a rally.
The mission said the lack of transparency, accountability, and lack of limitations on campaign spending disadvantaged candidates with less financial means and could have interfered with voters’ right to make an informed choice.
The report did not attempt to clarify whether the effects of these malpractices were significant enough to determine the outcome of the 4th December polls.
The observer mission recommended for Gambian authorities to make essential changes in the electoral legal framework, bring the Draft Elections Act in line with international standards, streamlined provisions of the Draft Constitution and the Draft Elections Act as well with other Acts relevant to the conduct of elections.
The mission also recommended for the increase of IEC capacity and transparency in critical areas, including the establishment of specialised divisions (legal, gender) within the electoral commission, the IEC to publish the complete presidential election results, disaggregated by polling station, on its website without delay.
It further recommended that: “In all future elections, disaggregated results should be released during the tabulation process, legal provisions to be made for continuous registration and updating of the voter register to allow for the removal of deceased voters, inclusion of citizens who will turn 18 prior to the elections, and transfer of place of registration for people who have moved among others.
The mission also recommended for the establishment of an independent oversight body to regulate and oversee political campaign finance to enhance transparency and accountability, introduce periodic auditing, reporting, and publishing obligations for political parties and rules for contestants during electoral periods (ceilings on donations, expenditure interim and final reporting.
“Strengthen the institutional independence of the IEC by establishing an inclusive mechanism for the selection and appointment of the IEC chairperson and commissioner and by ensuring the security tenure of the commissioner,” the mission added.
It recommended the revision of laws which disqualifies all prisoners from voting, regardless of the reason for imprisonment and ensures that the suspension of voting rights is proportionate to the offence committed.
Oumie Mendy contributed to this story