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Open letter to IEC for amendment of the voter registration in the Electoral Act

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The IEC is an established institution set up by an Act of parliament, and its employees are responsible for carrying out voter registration. Periodic registration should phase out since the institution has permanent staff entitled to monthly salaries and are capable of registering voters. The IEC is responsible for conducting and supervising the registration of voters for all public elections and the conduct and supervision of all public elections and referenda.

According to both the 1997 Constitution and the Election Act, every citizen of The Gambia of full age and capacity shall have the right, without unreasonable restrictions, to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; to vote and stand for elections at genuine periodic elections for public office, which elections shall be by universal and equal suffrage and be held by secret ballot; to have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in The Gambia.

The pandemic has left its mark on the population, particularly on the human capital. The economy of The Gambia is heavily reliant on agriculture. The Gambia has no significant mineral or other natural resources and has a limited agricultural base. The pandemic took a heavy toll on the economy at both the macro and micro levels which have had a negative impact on human and social development, either directly through the spread of the virus or indirectly through preventive social distancing measures and the global economic downturn.

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It remains vulnerable to future shocks such as new Covid-19 variants and weather-related risks, while the outlook is further dampened by the risk of contagion from the war in Ukraine. Although the country’s direct links with Russia and Ukraine are limited, the war is already increasing prices of food, fertiliser, and fuel and threatens to put the brakes on the global recovery, especially in its key tourism market. The Gambia traditionally relied heavily on trade-related taxes customs duties, sales taxes, processing, Ecowas fees, and excise taxes for revenue.

The IEC will agree with me that the government needs more funds to complete and start new projects for the development of this country. First time raising the history of infrastructural development the country’s government-funded mega projects from the taxpayer. This shows the seriousness of the government in terms of actions. Therefore laws that are not favourable to the people of this country and the government should be amended. If amended, they will save the government a lot of money and empower our democratic and human rights positively.

Both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights establish that the authority to govern shall be based on the will of the people as expressed in periodic and genuine elections. The fundamental principles relating to periodic free and fair elections that have been recognised by states in universal and regional human rights instruments, including the right of everyone to take part in the government of his or her country directly or indirectly through freely chosen representatives, to vote in such elections by secret ballot, to have an equal opportunity to become a candidate for election, and to put forward his or her political views, individually or in association with others.

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Conscious of the fact that each Gambian has the sovereign right, in accordance with the will of its people, freely to choose and develop its own political, social, economic, and cultural systems without interference by other states in strict conformity with the United Nations Charter. The establishment and strengthening of democratic processes and institutions is the common responsibility of governments, the electorate, and organised political forces, that periodic and genuine elections are a necessary and indispensable element of sustained efforts to protect the rights and interests of the governed and that, as a matter of practical experience, the right of everyone to take part in the government of his or her country is a crucial factor in the effective enjoyment by all of the human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Observations in periodic voter registration

o          Periodic voter registration may not accommodate everyone since some may be sick, travelling, busy on social matters, or less than 18 years of age by a few months.

o          Every 10 or 5-year general voter registration costs the taxpayers a lot of money.

o          Periodic registration may open a room for aliens to get access to voter’s card.

o          It may deny some citizens their voting rights.

o          It encourages political party supporters to interfere with the registration process since it involves mass hiring of staff across the country who, one way or the other, may support a political party.

o          It limits the chances of Gambians in the diaspora to get registered.

o          The period may not be favourable to electorate since no consultation is put in place for the electorate to table a time of their choice.

With the above observation, therefore, I hereby raise this motion of voter registration continuity all year round in The Gambia. The basis of democracy is the right to vote. And a person is qualified to vote only if registered as a voter. I call for an amendment in the electoral act in order to accommodate continuity in voter registration. If amended, it will enable Gambian citizens to get access to the document all year round. Acquiring voting rights without hindrance is a strong basis for democracy.

Impacts

o          It will minimise errors in terms of wrong spelling of personal information of the voters.

o          It will create a conducive environment for easy access to the voter document.

o          It will create a conducive environment for mass participation in the general election.

o          It will save the government a lot of money.

o          It will guarantee peaceful and credible elections.

o          It will increase mass participation in general elections.

o          It will eliminate the chance of alien registration.

o          Every Gambian citizen will have the right to register as a voter across the IEC offices in The Gambia any time he/she turns 18, on a non-discriminatory basis.

o          The year-round registration of voters will enable everyone who turns 18 to register as soon as they are of age.

o          Those that missed the periodic registration because they were sick or travelling, will have a second chance to register.

I hope the chairman of the IEC will give this letter the highest consideration it deserves.

Mr Mamadou Bah attempted to stand as an independent candidate in the 2021 presidential election in The Gambia. He failed in his bid to get nominated.

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