By Alagie Manneh
The Independent Electoral Commission has said its plans to introduce a paper ballot system for the upcoming presidential election are underway and insists that the system is the best the country can ever get.
Critics of the system said the country is not ready for those changes, citing primarily illiteracy levels, but the IEC said it has consensus among stakeholders on the matter at a recent validation of the proposal.
“We have no choice [but to introduce this system],” IEC chairman Alieu Momarr Njai reiterated. “Can you imagine producing more than 14000 ballot drums which must be painted, symbols marked in different party colours and transported? You will need almost 200 trucks, whereas with the ballot paper, we can have one truck do the whole exercise,” he told The Standard.
The Act for the proposed plans is being drafted at the Ministry of Justice, and expected to be submitted at the National Assembly.
Mr Njai went on: “Gambians are not dull people and most part of the world are using the paper ballot. Except the blind, there is no Gambian here of 18 years and above who has a voter’s card who cannot recognize the photo of his or her candidate, party symbol or colour.”
Mr Njai was speaking on the sidelines of a panel discussion in the gardens of the US Ambassador to The Gambia in Fajara, yesterday morning.
Under the theme ‘The Importance of Debate in Presidential Elections,’ organised by the Commission on Political Debates (CPD) Gambia and supported by the US Embassy, the low-key event brought together half a dozen students, civil society and staff of US Embassy to generate discussions on the significance of political debates in the country.
The IEC chairman further defended the independence of his Commission and proclaimed the “transparency and fairness” of Gambia’s electoral system as one of the best in the world.
Turning to listening students, he urged them to be more participatory in politics. “If you are 18, you should register and get your voter’s card,” he advised, highlighting the importance of participatory democracy.
Ambassador Richard Paschall the host, welcomed the students and watched them debate on US elections and discussed on various topics.
Civil rights activists, Madi Jobarteh was among the panelists, and the Ambassador paid tribute to their discussions with students.
“I think what we heard from many of our Gambian panel members today is encouraging. The participants in this event too looked more at the issues rather than identity politics,” he said.
Public affairs officer, Kathryn Edwards moderated the five-hour event.