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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Registering voters when the law is being legislated

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One of the most consequential elections in the history of The Gambia is scheduled to take place on 4th December 2021. An estimated one million plus Gambians are expected to cast votes and choose the person who will be entrusted with shepherding the country for the next five years.

As we all know, elections are not just an event for a day or two. They involve long winding and arduous processes that culminate in the casting and counting of marbles. One of the most important requirements for determining the validity of a free and fair election that reflects the sovereign will of the people is the process of voter registration. No election can be regarded as credible without a certified, transparent and inclusive process of voter registration.

Who is qualified to get a voter’s card and how the actual process of voting is conducted among other things are stipulated by law, the Elections Act. Justice Minister Dawda Jallow tabled the Elections Amendment Bill 2020 seeking to repeal the current Elections Act. The bill underwent first and second readings before it was referred to a parliamentary joint committees on human rights, IEC, regional government and constitutional matters.

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In accordance with the Standing Orders of the National Assembly the joint committees were tasked to review, consult and report to the plenary [general assembly] its findings and recommendations for final consideration and adoption.  The committees are in consultations with the members of the public, political parties, CSOs, government institutions and international organisations, some of which have submitted position papers highlighting their concerns and considerations on the bill.

The joint committees are expected to submit their report and recommendations before the plenary in June. The Independent Electoral Commission has announced it will conduct registration from 29 May 2021 to 11 July 2021.

Therefore, there are indications that the general voter registration, which the IEC plans to start on Saturday, will find the bill still at committee stages.  There is the   possibility that the registration of voters will most likely be done under the existing Elections Act.

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Part of the Elections Amendment Bill which has initially sparked heated debates at the plenary was the involvement of district chiefs and village headmen in the issuance of attestations as one of the criteria for eligibility to acquire a voter’s card. The lawmakers fear it could lead to fraud in the process. Therefore, with IEC relying on the old Act to conduct this general registration, will the fears not increase, given the same alkalolu and seyfolu will be attesting in issuing voter’s cards?

Since the law that sanctions the voter registration is still being crafted, are we not putting the cart before the horse?  The current tense political atmosphere has signalled that December 4th will be a high-stakes election, especially as it is the presidential election post-Jammeh dictatorship. Therefore, we must do everything in a proper and accountable manner.  

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