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Monday, June 21, 2021

Increasing the size of our democracy

In approximately 185 days, Gambians will return to the polls to elect their president for the first time since Yahya Jammeh was ousted in 2017. Memories of the last presidential election in 2016 — the high stakes, the tension, the noise and the eventually averted violent aftermath — have not fully faded yet. But, as typical of democracies around the world, periodic elections must be held and The Gambia is not an exception.

General elections are usually preceded by voter registrations. In the 2016 voter registration exercise, nearly 900,000 Gambians registered ahead of the elections. That was a record number in The Gambia as far as elections are concerned. However, a disappointingly high voter apathy almost threw the country into chaos. Out of the 886,578 registered voters, only 526,128 actually voted, with a staggering 360,450 voters failing to turn up.

It wasn’t initially a big issue as the results were counted but, when Jammeh reneged on his earlier decision to concede defeat, he questioned the Independent Electoral Commission about the “missing” 300,000 plus votes. It wasn’t the IEC’s fault that a huge number of voters didn’t cast their marbles, given the fact that thousands of Gambians had already fled the dictatorship, hundreds died in the high seas, while others chose not to vote thinking it wouldn’t make any difference because Jammeh would win anyway. All these played a part. 

Jammeh is gone now. That means Gambians should no longer fear to proudly walk into that polling booth to vote. The general voter registration for the next electoral cycle is already in high gear, with the Independent Electoral Commission targeting over a million voters. However, it is important to state that a general voter registration means a NEW voter’s card; all the previous cards are NO LONGER VALID, no matter how neatly-kept they might have been.

Therefore, we urge everyone who is 18 years and over or will be 18 years old by 4th December 2021, to walk to any registration centre and get their voter’s card. There are 730 registration centres across the country, enough for all of us to be close to at least ONE registration centre. Furthermore, it is our collective responsibility as citizens to encourage one another to not only get a voter’s card but to vote on Election Day. Acquiring a voter’s card without voting makes no sense. Let us all get a voter’s card, vote and increase the size of our democracy.  

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