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IEC CONFIRMS GAMBIA WILL MIGRATE TO PAPER BALLOT

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Denies allegations of registering foreigners

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By Omar Bah

The chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission has announced that The Gambia will be using paper ballot starting from the 2026 presidential election.

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The West African nation has been using the marble since independence nearly 60 years ago.

But according to the IEC chairman, Alieu Momarr Njai, the increase in political participation has made it practically impossible for the commission to continue using the marble. 

“So, given the number of political parties and potential candidates for future elections, the upcoming local government elections will be conducted under marble voting. We will be migrating to paper ballots in subsequent elections,” Chairman Njai said at a media-CSO training on electoral process yesterday.

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He said Gambia is the only country using the marble throughout the world and it is “no more sustainable under the circumstances”.

“We cannot afford to print ballot drums for all these candidates that are coming forward to show interest,” he added.

Registration of foreigners

Commenting on widespread allegations that the commission has registered foreigners in the last general voter registration, Chairman Njai said the allegations are “untrue and unfair” to the commission.

“You see, we only register people if they provide the required documents for registration. There are laws guiding the process which we follow to the letter at all times. Also, after registration, we paste all those who are registered at polling stations across the country to allow people to scrutinise and make complaints as necessary for remedy but we have not received any complaints about any of the over nine hundred thousand voters registered,” he argued.

He said the IEC has been very transparent in its processes from registration to election day, adding that the IEC is committed to continue conducting free, fair and transparent elections as dictated by democratic principles.

Commenting on the training, Mr Njai said the full participation of the media and civil society helps the IEC to deliver free and fair elections.

Turning to the local government elections, Chairman Njai said the 2023 local government elections will be held on two separate dates with the councilors’ election coming first on Saturday, 15th April 2023 and election of mayors/chairpersons will follow on Saturday 20 May, 2023.

According to the IEC, 120 ward councillors, 6 area council chairpersons and 2 mayors will be elected.

Chairman Njai then told journalists they are expected to report fairly on all candidates or parties whilst upholding professional standards and media ethics.

The president of the Gambia Press Union, Muhmmed S Bah, said the union is proud to associate itself with such a laudable initiative ahead of one of the most important elections in the country’s electoral calendar. He said the media and the civil society play a very important role in holding the electoral commission accountable to ensure the process is free, fair and transparent.

“Journalists should conduct themselves in an impartial manner and ensure neutrality throughout the process. To the IEC, it is important to accord the media and civil society uninterrupted access to monitor, scrutinise and report on the process without interference, especially from the security forces,” he added.

TANGO’s programme officer, Alhagi S Cham, urged the CSOs to remain nonpartisan and neutral throughout the process to ensure there is adequate framework defining civil participation and free and fair election.

“It is important that the CSOs and media to raise awareness of voters on the importance of voting and be voted for with specific focus on women, youths and underrepresented and vulnerable groups,” he added.

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