By Omar Bah
The spokesperson of the United Democratic Party, Almami Taal has said the IEC’s election calendar which shows that the diaspora could only vote in presidential elections is legally unjustifiable.
The Independent Electoral Commission recently issued its electoral calendar spanning from 2021 to 2023, including referendum on the draft constitution. Curiously, the Gambian diaspora can only vote in the presidential election of December 2021 and not in the referendum holding in June. This has sparked controversy and condemnation.
The UDP spokesman said the procedure on how the Gambian diaspora should participate effectively in any election is a responsibility of the IEC.
“Let us be clear about these designations. The law is very specific when it confers rights like political participation. It doesn’t necessarily say these types of Gambians can vote in this election and those other types of Gambians can only vote in this other election. The issue is that the electoral office should be able to enfranchise all Gambians wherever they are to be able to vote and I think sometimes we get misdirected or misguided by the word diaspora as a temporary title. Some people have been overseas for 50 years while some could have just been there for 6 months. So it is a question what are the basic rights you have as a Gambian citizen and what are the institutions that are established to take care of your exercising of those rights and that when you are away, you cannot vote in this or that election or electoral process?” he said.
Taal further argued that if the IEC wants to talk about the law, they should talk about it as seriously as it is because “once you are registered to vote, it is their responsibility to make sure that you vote whether you are in the diaspora or in the country.
“The position of the IEC on diaspora voting has been that it is going to be a very costly affair. It may still be the case but the main difference is now we have a lot of experience within the Commonwealth and globally. Whenever elections are happening here in our neighbourhood; whether it is Guinea Bissau or Guinea Conakry, we see that their governments make arrangements for their citizens who are resident here to participate in the election,” he said.
He argued that the question the IEC should answer is how to ensure that the diaspora will not have to pay a ticket to come to The Gambia to vote.
“These are things that the IEC should focus on to ensure that the diaspora community that is contributing immensely to the economic development of this country are able to vote. In the final analysis, I think the media should not allow the IEC or the politicians to get away with these kinds of statements because it is a reflection of the position of the law.
“I hope everything will be done to ensure that the diaspora will be able to vote. It was just in March that we had a meeting with the IEC and the donors and they suggested that by June this year, there would be a new law to explain about these boundaries and the mechanism on how the diaspora would be able to vote,” he added.
Taal said the IEC should be very frank with Gambians by telling them what are the challenges and what do they think are the best opportunities to solve those challenges.
Meanwhile the chief electoral officer, Samboujang Njie has clarified that IEC calendar of elections would be implemented on the existing laws and those which might be made by the National Assembly in future. He said the issue of diaspora voting has always been in the laws before 2016, even though it has never happened. “So it is not based on the new draft constitution which has not even been passed. That clarification is very important,” he told The Standard.