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Thursday, December 2, 2021

Pa Makan Khan, director of communications, IEC

Pa Makan Khan, director of communications, IEC

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Alagie: Your credibility is on the line. From 2016 to date, you have been making errors with the results of all the elections. A lot of things are riding on this election. What are the guarantees that you are not going to make another monumental error?

Pa Makan Khan: I think the IEC enjoys a high rating in terms of credibility. So, I wonder why you would say our credibility is on the line. From engagements with stakeholders, partners, and the Gambian electorate, the IEC [has been doing well]. The IEC embarked on a stakeholder consultation and the key stakeholders, the local authorities, the electorate, political parties, and local partners have high regard for the IEC. That is to say that the IEC enjoys a very high rating in terms of credibility. The 2016 error, I think this is a thing of the past. This happened for reasons I am sure most people know. The condition wasn’t favourable. There were some issues, however, I think this [the 2016 error] is a matter for history now. The IEC is moving forward and assuring Gambians that it will deliver a free, fair, credible, and transparent election come 4 December 2021. We will make sure everything is accurate and everything is as transparent as possible.

Your chairman looks and sounds feeble, and when he talks you can barely hear him clearly. Is he in fact up to the task given the rigours involved in conducting national poll?

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I would dispute that the chairman is weak. The chairman is very energetic, more than you and I. We go on trek in the provinces. I wish you were there to see the chairman in those rural areas. The chairman is fit to conduct the election very well. I don’t think this is an issue. The chairman is doing his responsibilities as expected. He is doing the tasks assigned. He is very fit to conduct the election and even beyond.

The inordinately inadequate time given to voters for public scrutiny is already considered a failure on the part of the IEC by many. Don’t you agree?

I vehemently disagree. This is not a failure. Going by the list, I wish you have a look at the people who came out for scrutiny. Again, that’s one part of the equation. The other part is that it’s a matter of law. The law prescribes that the scrutiny should start from eight o’clock in the morning and end at 12 midday. I think this is very clear. This shouldn’t be an issue. The law is the law. I think the commission is just trying to implement the law as it is. The law provides for four hours of public scrutiny. Within these four hours, we had over 60 Gambians who came to scrutinise those nomination papers. So, the media, fine, if they are not happy with the time allocation, but what would have been the situation if each media house was given one hour to scrutinise? I think you are denying bona fide Gambians their right to scrutinise those papers. Fine, maybe the time is not adequate. I think this may lead us to another chapter; that is a review of the laws. But for me, I think any person who has interest to scrutinise any nomination papers, I think within five minutes he can do that. Confirming whether a person has been paying tax or the number of his assets should not take you an hour to complete. I think the media has an issue when it comes to the scrutiny, but as far as I can say the commission was enforcing the law. I would say this is a success considering the number of Gambians that came out to scrutinse any of the papers that they wanted to scrutinse. So, this cannot be considered a failure.

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You stated that some objections were made against the nominations of Darboe and Kandeh. Who made these objections, and what are these objections?

I cannot say exactly who made the objections, but I think one or two people made them. Some were in relation to the qualification of some of the candidates, and some were in relation to [a particular] candidate who they say was convicted [in a court of law], but this is history now as a decision was reached on them. The objections were disregarded. That process is concluded now, and we are moving forward. We are now focusing on the campaign and the election in two weeks.

Was the voter registration perfect?

I just have to say that there is no perfect system in this world. The commission used the biometric system which according to IT experts is the most reliable in terms of voter registration and in terms of identifying people because of its unique features such as fingerprint and the facial recognition [software]. I think the biometric system is one of the most robust system we have not only in The Gambia but globally. So, the system was used during the voter registration to make sure that every Gambian, every electorate who registered was captured on the list of voters. Of course, there were some issues such as double registrations, or even multiple registrations. I think this was an issue during the voter registration. I think this is a challenge that needs to be overcome in the future. It may be about voter education that people may know that double registration is a crime. You mustn’t register more than once. For one reason or another, some people registered twice or even more.

About 14 days to the election, how prepared is the IEC to handle this election?

I would say the commission is fully prepared towards the conducting of the 4 December 2021 election. Most of the logistics have already been done. The equipment and materials have been dispatched across regions in the country. I would say that the commission is fully prepared to conduct the 4 December presidential election.

Is the December 2021 election rig-proof? Can you say with certainty that there cannot be any room for fraud or rigging as far as the IEC is concerned?

I can proudly say that The Gambia’s electoral system, from PIEC [then Provisional Independent Electoral Commission] to date – I have been in this commission for over two decades, from 1996 to date. I can say the same system has been used and it is rig-proof. The process is constantly monitored by party agents. The parties have a interest to watch closely and are given ample opportunity to observe the process from A to Z. So, I would say the system is 100 percent rig-proof.

If the antiquated system of voting that is unique to The Gambia is not broken, why would the IEC want to change it to a paper ballot system?

The marble system has been in The Gambia since 1947, this was way before independence. The marble was introduced by the British colonial government. When the franchise was extended to the protectorate – it used to be only in Banjul which was a colony – then it was expanded to the protectorate. Really, the ballot drum and marble have been very robust, very effective, transparent, and very rig-proof. But times change. From 1965 to date, there has been a lot of changes in The Gambia’s political system. In the previous electoral cycle, we used to have few candidates but now we are talking about six. The issue is mostly about logistics. For instance, how do you line up 26 drums or even 50 if there are 50 candidates? I think the IEC is looking ahead to what is quite ideal for the future, so the commission thought it wise to shift or to migrate from the marble to paper system. We have two options here: one is to improve the ballot drum to make it more potable and all that or two, to go to ballot paper. But the general view of the commission is that its about time the IEC moves on to a new format of voting which is ballot paper. To reassure Gambians, whatever voting methods used, the system remain the same; that the process will continue to be transparent and credible so that it will win the trust and confidence of every Gambian voter.

Can you take us back to the events of that faithful morning of December when the declaration of election results were suspended for several hours. What exactly was going on at the time?

I would just say that 2016 is history now. I wish we focus on 2021. We have an arduous task ahead in the next two weeks. I think right now, the best bet is we focus on 2021 and see how best we can make it the most transparent and credible election ever held in The Gambia. I think right now, all the stakeholders, including you the media, should make that the focus. We must not cry over spilled milk five years ago.

The IECs failure to have the Disapora enfranchised in this election is already considered a failure. Personally, do you have any regrets about the issue?

We will not call this a failure especially if you relate it to the laws. Most Gambians in the Disapora wanted to register and participate in the election, but the commission is a law enforcing entity. It acts according to law. So, in regard to the Diaspora registration, the laws were not sufficient to do that. This is the issue. Going forward, it should be about revising the law so that the Diaspora can also be captured in subsequent elections in The Gambia.

Many have called for the resignation of your chairman because of his advanced age. At 87, his faculties are evidently not at their sharpest. Why do you think he refuses to step down given that you have a lot of younger and capable commissioners to take over from him?

The chairman didn’t refuse to step down. The chairman is appointed for a period, and he is currently doing the job as best as he could. So, there’s no issue in that regard. If few people think the chairman should resign, that’s their thinking, but I can say that the chairman is very efficient and is on top of things.

Its not just ‘few people’, even the former IEC chairman, Mustapha Carayol, called for his removal saying Mr Njai is not fit to continue as chairman of the IEC.

You know when we talk about democracy, we know that every person has a right to your own ideas or opinion. That is his opinion, the former chairman. But as a commission, we think the chairman is up to the task. He is doing all that is required of him. He is executing his mandate. There is no issue about that.

What do you think should be the role of the electoral body in this highly charged and divided political atmosphere?

I think The Gambia is very united. The Gambia is one country, one people, one family, one everything. The country is united even though there are few peddlers of negatives sentiments. I think as a nation we must focus on issues of development, we stick together as one Gambia, as one people and develop as one country, the country we desire to be the best in Africa and the world at large. The commission implores on all political parties and all candidates of the 4 December presidential election to comply with the campaign code of ethics and the media rules. Let them make sure the messages they disseminate to the public are as civil as possible.  

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