As a political Party, we seek to access power through credible elections. It was the lack of a credible electoral process that excluded us from participating in elections since 2012. With our hands and feet tied by the system, we found ourselves literally excluded by the IEC, and it became impossible to submit to such a process under the circumstances. It has to change. If the electoral system is not reformed, and the system does not change to meet the challenges the opposition encounters, there will be no realistic opportunity for genuine plurality. Going to elections under such circumstances, would not only be treacherous, but would constitute a conspiracy to usurp the power of the electorate, in determining their destiny. We equate that with treason. We will use all legitimate means in our power, working in tandem with all stakeholders both at home and around the world, to assure the supremacy of the actual voting intent of our electorate, through comprehensive electoral reforms and internationally accepted good practices. Going to the polls without reform amounts to conceding electoral defeat even before stones are cast. We do not exist to partake in exercises in futility, or knowingly go through the formal motion of pre-programmed electoral defeat for the heck of it.
Let me use this occasion to emphatically state what has been our principle and policy. We believe that political power must be derived legitimately from the people, through credible elections. To this end, I will re-echo my previous public statement in categorically rejecting attempts to assume power through unconstitutional means, or retaining power through fraudulent electoral subterfuge. GMC considers both unconstitutional attempt to change a government, and retaining political power through electoral subterfuge identical in purport, and therefore equally reprehensible and condemnable. Both situations seek to perpetuate political fraud against the polity, by subverting the democratic aspirations and actual voting intent of Gambians. Both practices deserve equal treatment with equal measure. I will now concentrate on the essential element of electoral reforms.
REFORMS OF THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM
1. The electoral law requires amendment on the following issues:
(a) Elimination of age limit for eligibility to contest elections from 65. There is no scientific or sound policy justification to retain this abominable provision in our laws. The Gambia is the only country in the world with this archaic, unreasonable, discriminatory law. This condition was ill-conceived, exclusionary, anti-democratic and unconstitutional. The provision cannot be sustained.
(b) Elimination of residency requirements. The Gambia is the only country in the entire world that wrongly establishes citizenship rights based on place of residence. Historically that was what used to obtain in South Africa under apartheid. A Gambian citizen remains a Gambian regardless of his place of abode. There is no law in any part of the world that suspends a citizen’s fundamental rights merely on grounds of where he or she lives, except in The Gambia. The right to vote and be voted for is a sacred constitutional right, that cannot be scuttled in law by virtue of residing out of the country. The requirement to live permanently in the country for five years prior to elections, as a condition for eligibility to contest public office is untenable, unconstitutional and ill-conceived. It is intentionally exclusionary, discriminatory, anti-democratic and has no sound policy justification. This provision guarantees that Gambians who reside out of the country even for medical reasons for less than a year have NO chances to aspire for political office in their own country of birth. It kills their ambition to serve their people or participate in public decision-making involving elections. No one promulgates such an unjust law in the world.
(c) Elimination of stone voting using marble-like particles. The Gambia is the only country in the world still using stones to vote. The justification for retaining this stone-age voting system instantly dissipates when much poorer nations with higher illiterate population such as Guinea Bissau, Central Africa, Haiti, Somalia, South Sudan, etc use ballot papers. The trend in Africa and other emerging democracies is the use of biometric, electronic, finger printing voting. Unless The Gambia transforms from this stone-age voting system to a more transparent, verifiable open ballot system, there will be no credible elections in the country. Stone-voting at national elections belongs to the stone-age.
(d) Elimination of counting centres. During the last Presidential elections in 2011, stones were not counted at polling stations. They were transported from where voters inserted their stones into drums, to specific counting centres organized by the IEC. That is to say, the voters were denied the right to see their stones being countered within their own communities where they voted. Instead, all stone drums were counted at centres several miles away from them where multiple counting often took place under very poor lighting system. No wonder public confidence in the integrity of the counting system was disastrously low, with debilitating questions on the consequent legitimacy of the incumbent. Counting should be done at each polling station right in front of the very people who cast their stones, so that they would feel that their votes actually matter, and were in fact counted. It instils confidence in the polity that their actual voting intention and true political will was honoured by the system. It sanitises the process and strengthens our democracy. That is what elections are about – that the sovereignty of the people thrives against all odds. As leaders, we must uphold this sacred principle against all odds.
(e) Elimination of the so-called “Attestation” certification. The Gambia is the only country in the world with such an unusual system of paper attestation that replaces voters card at the last minute while voting is taking place, potentially entitling hundreds of people to access the electoral route through the back door. The holder of a simple paper attestation signed by any three persons holding Gambian citizenship, enables a person who does not have a voter’s card for no reason, to vote at that election. It is a real gate-way for electoral malpractice and does not instil confidence in the system.
(f) Availability of the master voters registry to the public throughout the year to ensure that non-Gambians do not determine our elections or substantially minimising the potential for double or multiple registration and voting, as well as the impersonation of deceased voters.
(g) Funding of election representatives. Each political party is permitted to have a representative at each polling station throughout the country. It is no secret that political parties in The Gambia are financially disabled intentionally by design, so as to keep them weak and non-performing. Therefore, during elections there were many polling stations without representative of some political parties due to such capacity constraints. Funding to enable political parties meet these challenges will greatly enhance the integrity of the process, especially during vote counting and verification. The absence of the opposition at polling booths and counting centres due to capacity constraints facilitates fraud. The ruling party does not experience this challenge at elections.
(h) The enforcement of strict neutrality of law enforcement outfits by the IEC. The IEC merely states the law on neutrality but does nothing to enforce its provisions. The interference and heavy bias of law enforcement outfits throughout the country against the opposition serve to inculcate intrepid fear among opposition supporters and sympathisers, and in many instances keep them away from the polls. No opposition could triumph against the over-bearing weight of punitive law enforcement system, built to curtail the proper exercise of the right to vote. We cannot contest against the ruling party and at the same time contest against law enforcement agencies and expect to win at such an election. Law enforcement attitude towards the opposition is gleaned from its failure not only to protect our rights, but in the denial of our right to freedom of assembly, and the intentional misapplication of the Public Order Act to our detriment.
(i) Rendering the IEC truly independent. The current law empowers the President to appoint the chair of IEC and its Directors. The power to hire and fire is a humongous pernicious influence, especially when one of the candidates is also the hirer and firer. For the election body to be truly independent, it must be removed from executive influence. If the IEC chiefs continue to be appointed by the President and who also presents himself as a partisan candidate at election. The power to appoint must now be appropriated to an independent authority outside the influence or authority of the Executive.
(j) Press freedom. We cannot even call ourselves a budding democracy unless we permit freedom of the press. It is a sad fact that throughout the history of this government for the past two decades and more, no opposition leader was permitted to appear at the national TV address Gambians using the national radio except the few times during general elections. Supporters of the opposition are Gambians too and deserve access to alternative views aired on national media infrastructure. The denial of the opposition to tax payer national TV and radio is discriminatory and unconstitutional. A nation that aspires to greatness would not systematically deny its opposition, a very large segment of the population, the right to be heard. A government that preaches peace and security must act peacefully and assures that all segments of society feel secure in the exercise of their birth-right. GMC calls for the gag on free expression and access to public information platforms to be removed without delay. We must allow free flow of ideas and knowledge. As leaders, we should not be afraid of innovation or new ideas. We should promote intellect, ingenuity and industry. We should enable our youth to dare to dream, express themselves and hold us to account. That is for GMC the essence of public service – accountability and to build future generations.
(k) Independence of the judiciary. It is essential that judicial officers respect their oaths of office. Being in the opposition should not be grounds for judicial victimisation to placate or appease political authority. The law should be a shield to protect the rights of all, not an instrument of victimisation and oppression, using prejudicial, misdirected or ill-conceived interpretations and applications of legal principles to achieve predetermined political outcome. In other words, magistrates and judges should not use their judicial robes to persecute the opposition for being politically different.
(l) Power of the incumbency. The IEC ought to ensure that candidates for president of The Gambia are treated simply as candidates on equal footing with equal treatment. Unguarded statements and acts prejudicial to the interests of other candidates should not recur. The Gambian public cannot be deceived. It is imperative that both fairness and the perception of fairness be seen to be at work if public confidence is to be restored.
2. The need for consultation, sincerity, team-work and partnership. We shall continue to consult with all stakeholders including all political parties, the IEC, civil society, the diaspora and our development partners with a view to creating an electoral system that would be the pride of democracy. We support calls for strengthening the inter-party forum. We propose the creation of an independent inter-party secretariat with administrative structures to help facilitate communication, interaction and dialogue among political parties. To get it running upfront now, we propose initial funding contribution by all political parties into a common resource pool, while seeking for funding sustainable mechanism, including possible parliamentary budgetary allocation.
I invite the IEC and the APRC to demonstrate sufficient bona fide and seriousness on this issue. These reforms should precede the next elections and can be achieved within three months if we begin now, and if both the IEC and government have the political will and the courage to do the right thing. Should the IEC desire to secure relevant funding necessary for the reforms to be implemented through the international donor funding system, GMC shall vigorously support the effort using diplomacy. It is a shared responsibility of the international community and ECOWAS for democracy to hold roots in The Gambia. We are partners, not enemies. Working together with sincerity and a sense of urgency, we shall bring into effect an electoral system that shall truly reflect the aspirations of Gambians.
I invite President Jammeh to bequeath a legacy of establishing a strong structural foundation, for conducting credible elections in The Gambia. I urge him to take bold steps towards this direction. The nation shall honour him in perpetuity if he demonstrates sufficient political will on this matter. I call on our colleagues and all stakeholders to rise to the occasion so as to usher in a new political era, and build a formidable democratic infrastructure for Gambians yet unborn. Our focus is not on which individual or political party shall win. The essential element for us remains – will our democracy win? This is the founding principle upon which GMC exists. Thank you all.
Dated the 29th January, 2015.]]>