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Friday, February 26, 2021

Few months before elections; still no electoral reforms

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By D.A Jawo

When Gambians came out in large numbers and against all the odds on 1st December 2016 to vote out the dictatorial regime of President Yahya Jammeh, the foremost thing in their minds, among other things, was to reform the bad system in place in the country. Among those reforms they wanted to see was a new constitution and a much fairer electoral system.

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However, four years down the line, none of that has so far been achieved, and everyone is wondering what might have gone wrong. Why has the coalition government not only so far failed to carry out any such necessary reforms, but the old system seems to be thriving instead?

As the whole country seems to gear up for the presidential elections scheduled for December, instead of concentrating on the reforms they promised Gambians, virtually every action by President Adama Barrow and his government is being done with his re-election in mind. We have all seen how the recently concluded ‘Meet the People Tour’, for instance, had been transformed into a political jamboree, with virtually everyone talking about supporting President Barrow’s political agenda and voting for his National People’s Party (NPP), completely deviating from the main objectives of the Tour’s official objectives.

It is quite obvious that even the ongoing efforts to resuscitate the Draft Constitution 2020, with the coming of former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to help in the process, is no doubt part of President Barrow’s political agenda to get re-elected in 2021. The whole process has been politicized from the very beginning, particularly by his supporters and sympathizers who campaigned against the Draft as well as voted against it in the National Assembly. It shows that they were willing to disregard the more than D116 million spent on the draft just because a few clauses did not seem to favour his political ambitions. It is therefore quite obvious that at the end of the day, whether the process to resuscitate the Draft succeeds or not, the entire process would cost the Gambian tax payers nothing less than D200 million, considering the fact that the involvement of President Jonathan and his team would also no doubt have some costs. Is it really worth spending all that money on a Draft that could have been quite easily passed at the very first time it was introduced in the National Assembly?

Despite all that however, there is still no guarantee that whatever the consensus may be at the end of the Jonathan process, the Draft would pass in the National Assembly. There is a possibility that if any of the clauses of the original Draft are removed or amended, the majority of members that voted for it in the National Assembly may this time round vote against it. It is also very likely that members of the APRC would vote against any draft that seeks to replace the 1997 Constitution, which they see as Babili Mansa’s legacy that should not be tampered with. Therefore, the Barrow administration has quite an uphill task to resuscitate the 2020 Draft Constitution.

Was it really necessary to invite President Jonathan all the way from Nigeria to come and mediate in the process when all that President Barrow could have done was to invite the various stakeholders to discuss the matter and come to a consensus? Therefore, many people feel that there was no need to invite any outsider to help us do that, as the Draft is a Gambian document, drafted by Gambians and there was absolutely no need to involve anyone else in the process.

In addition, if the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly had not turned down the motion recently moved by Halifa Sallah, Member for Serekunda, to rescind the decision of the National Assembly to vote against the Draft at the second reading, there would not have been any need for the process led by President Jonathan. It however appears that as a result of the pressure being applied on the government by donor partners, President Barrow and most of his supporters who voted to abort the process in the National Assembly are now willing to reconsider their position on the process and would therefore likely vote for it if it is re-introduced, albeit the fact that they are still insisting on changes to some clauses. Therefore, the proposal by Halifa Sallah would have been the easiest way forward as it would have given opportunity to everyone to partake in the process until a consensus is reached, of course with far less cost than bringing in “experts” from Nigeria.

However, even assuming that the Jonathan process eventually succeeds and the Draft is re-introduced in the National Assembly and it passes through the different stages, there is still no guarantee that there is enough time left to complete the electoral reform process in order to hold the presidential elections in December as scheduled. There are several processes and reforms that still need to be put in place before the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) can re-assure Gambians that it is ready to hold credible elections.  Already, we have seen the Commission postpone indefinitely its plans to carry out the general voter registration, apparently due to its failure to get approval to order electoral materials. There are also several other logistical problems that the Commission needs to deal with in order to demonstrate that it has the capacity to conduct credible elections by December.

It is a well-known fact that electoral reforms was one of the fundamental pledges made by Coalition 2016 when they were campaigning in 2016, especially considering the fact that it was one of the demands of a majority of Gambians during the former regime, leading to the arrest and harassment of many people and the death in custody of people like Solo Sandeng. One would therefore wonder why for more than four years in office, the Barrow government has hardly done anything in that regard. Instead, President Barrow seems to be more pre-occupied with self-perpetuation rather than carrying out the reforms that he was elected to perform.

It is indeed quite hard to see what the IEC had been doing since 2017 when everyone had expected that by now, it would have put in place most of those reforms, such as the enactment of an Elections Act and re-demarcation of constituency boundaries, among other necessary reforms, culminating in general voter registration. It is therefore hard to see how the Commission can accomplish all those tasks before the commencement of the 2021 electoral cycle. There is a danger that if the Commission pushes ahead with the reforms without adequate preparations, we may end up with a half-baked system that would be a prescription for chaos.  Therefore, in view of the slow pace of the electoral reforms, it is quite necessary for the IEC to have a Plan B in place because all indications are that there is not enough time to accomplish the process before December.

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