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EU observers deliver verdict on Gambian election

EU observers deliver verdict on Gambian election

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By Aisha Tamba

The Chief Election Observer of the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) and Member of the European Parliament Norbert Neuser, has said there are critical gaps that need significant reform in The Gambia’s democratic election process

Speaking to journalists at a press conference yesterday, the chief observer however said polling and counting were well administered during election day as well as an extensive participation of citizen observers, including fact-checking initiatives, which helped voters navigate the process and contributed to its transparency.

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However, he said there are critical gaps, restrictions, and legal uncertainties that require significant reform.  “As no comprehensive constitutional or electoral reform has taken place, previous EU, EOM recommendations in key areas, including restrictions on the right to vote and stand, challenges to candidate’s nomination, and campaign finance rules, remain unaddressed,” he said.

He further noted that the IEC has been held in high esteem by stakeholders since the 2016 presidential election and this public standing was, however, diminished after court findings that the IEC had acted unlawfully. “The duties of the IEC are very broad, but the capacity of the institution is modest. There have also been concerns raised by various interlocutors about a lack of transparency on aspects of their work, with minimal information put into the public domain,” he said.

“There had been a brief period of public scrutiny during which objections to candidacies could be made by voters. Interested parties, however, were granted access for just five minutes which makes the exercise not meaningful, as voters did not have a real opportunity to scrutinise the documentation and gather the information required to make grounded objections.,” he lamented.

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 The EU observers further noted that throughout the campaign, freedoms were largely respected, and campaigning was issue-based, although highly personalized and social media was employed widely. “Throughout the country, campaigners met with voters extensively at large rallies in towns, down to small meetings at the village level.  and women took an active part, although they were rarely in leadership positions.”

 He also pointed out that the lack of campaign finance regulation added to an unleveled playing field. “This was exemplified by widespread distribution of goods and gifts, giving the incumbent an undue advantage.

“Despite journalists and citizens being able to voice their opinions, the media legal framework severely restricts freedom of expression. In practice, the allocation of TV licenses to business conglomerates undermined media freedom and pluralism. The Media Rules on campaign coverage provides for free airtime and the right to purchase airtime, but unduly restricts candidates’ right to free speech. EU EOM media monitoring results show that the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) provided rather balanced news coverage of contestants campaign, while commercial TV stations displayed significant bias towards the incumbent,” he added.

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