By Omar Bah
An independent research which assessed the level of The Gambia’s compliance with the African Centre for Human and Peoples Right (ACHPR) Guidelines within the dictates of the Access to Information Act and other existing legislations, has reported serious concerns over the “undemocratic nature” of Gambian political parties.
According to the report, the challenges of leadership renewal loom large as all political parties remain saddled with the burden of personality, where the party founder remains at the helm for virtually the entire life of the party.
“This has resulted in the splintering of political parties, old and new, over the period. `Democratic practice within political parties has also been questioned, as have the internal measures for dealing with transparency and accountability. Internal party dispute resolution has been ineffective, leading to protracted court battles between party leaders and their members. This has resulted in at least three parties still vying to be the ‘legitimate’ party – as has been the case with the oldest parties in the country, the APRC, PPP and NCP,” the report added.
The report added that the undemocratic characteristics of political parties have also been exposed by the way in which ‘coalitions’ and ‘alliances’ are formed.
“These formations are often not subject to internal party structures, debates and/or discussions, with decisions taken by the few and the rest following. The nature of these political pacts is usually vague, and formal agreements, where they exist, are not made public, leaving them open to public speculation and conjecture. This is precisely what happened with the Coalition 2016’s MoU since the jury is still out as to whether the agreement – which stipulated a three-year mandate for Adama Barrow – was signed or not,” it added.
According to the report, the proliferation of political parties in the last three years has had a positive impact on bolstering political pluralism.
“However, there is need for sharp and focused introspection by all political parties, to reflect on the daunting issues that undermine the sustainability, credibility and effectiveness of political entities,” it stated.
The report also recommended that the Independent Electoral Commission should be audited after every election cycle and the audit findings be made public for transparency purposes.
According to the report, the IEC should subject itself to a financial and performance audit after every election (presidential, National Assembly and local government), and make the outcome of the exercise accessible to the public.
A recent Afrobarometer survey found that, despite fairly positive assessments of election quality, only about half (49%) of citizens say they trust the IEC ‘somewhat’ or ‘a lot,’ a significant decline compared to 2018 (at 64%).
This, according to the report, clearly demonstrates that the IEC is suffering from a trust deficit.
“It must, therefore, embrace and value its mandate, which goes beyond elections management, and realise that it is a service delivery institution accountable to all stakeholders. Accordingly, the IEC should adhere to and implement the court judgments against it, urgently halt the continued disenfranchisement of the Diaspora, and facility the processes to ensure that Gambians abroad are registered to vote and are afforded the opportunity to vote in all elections from their respective countries of residence,” it added.
The report added that the IEC should implement the recommendations from the various EOMs (the AU, ECOWAS, EU, EISA, and local observers) whose suggestions are anchored in improving democratic dispensation through the strengthening of election integrity and the recommendations of the final report of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy on the 2021 presidential election.