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Wanep, NHRC, NERG publishes report on mayoral and chairperson election

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On 20th May 2023, Gambians went to the polls to elect their mayors and chairpersons in the last part of the 2021-23 electoral cycle. The National Election Response Group (NERG), WANEP and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) deployed 50 monitors to observe the process with the aim of monitoring, analysing, and mitigating electoral violence to contribute to a peaceful and credible election.

The IEC approved a total of 32 candidates for the mayoral and chairperson election; however, only 29 candidates contested for the 8 Local Government Administrative Areas (2 Municipalities and 6 Local Government Areas), out of which only 2 were women, representing 6 percent. Out of the 19 registered political parties, 6 parties nominated candidates and 9 are Independent. No candidate was a Person with Disability (PWD).

Out of the 962,157 registered voters, 458, 346 voters participated in the election which represents about 48 percent. Thus, the voter turnout is higher than that of the April councillorship election which was about 34 percent. Of the 8 Local Government Administrative Areas, UDP won 4 (Banjul, Kanifing, Brikama and Mansa Konko) while NPP also won 4, namely: Kerewan, Kuntaur, Janjangbureh and Basse, 

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IEC Preparations for the Election

As part of its preparation for the Local Government election, 962,157 Gambians, comprising 545,318 (57%) females and 416,839 males (43%), are registered and eligible to vote in the election. Fifty-seven per cent (57%) constitutes youth between 18 and 35 years. The election was held in 1554 polling stations and 120 Wards in eight Local Government Administrative Areas of The Gambia.

The Election Situation Room (ESR)

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The focus of the ESR is to facilitate the monitoring, reporting, analysis, and responses to incidents which may threaten the peaceful conduct of the election. It is made up of four operational sections, namely: Data gathering, analysis, communication and decision rooms.

This declaration provides a summary of the observations of the electoral process by the NERG and partners.

Summary of observations

Opening of polling stations

Generally, polls opened on time at 8:00a.m. Opening procedures as outlined by law were complied with, and most of the polling staff were present. Majority of the polling stations were easily accessible and polling officials and party agents present carried out their duties in areas observed. All required election materials were available in adequate quantities in all the polling stations visited. Security personnel and party agents were visibly present in all the polling stations. Media personnel were also present in most of the polling stations at the time of opening.

Voting process

Overall, voting started on time in all the polling stations visited. At most polling stations the voter turn-out was relatively high and most voters in queues were women. The voting process was orderly, and the secrecy of the ballot was generally adequate in most polling stations. There was fair representation of women among IEC officials, party agents and security personnel at all the polling stations visited. Priority voting was accorded to the elderly and Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). Posters of candidates were also visible on ballot boxes to aid identification of candidates. There was presence of security across the country. Some of the polling stations observed had limited accessibility for the elderly and persons with disabilities.

Counting of votes

Polling stations officially closed at 5pm. Counting took place at all polling stations after the closure and electoral officials followed the laid down rules and regulations. The process was generally smooth and peaceful.  All the result sheets were signed by all candidates/party agents in the stations observed. Results were posted at the polling station and candidates’ agents were provided with a copy of the results form.

Procedural incidents

The Observers reported two procedural incidents, namely:

Vehicles branded with party symbols belonging to NPP and pictures of Independent Candidate Ahmed Gitteh were seen in polling stations in Banjul and Brufut (West Coast Region) respectively.

At Bajonkoto polling station in Faji Kunda (Kanifing Municipality), IEC officials attempted to temporarily stop voting to break for lunch while voters were in queue. This resulted in a row between voters and the IEC officials.

Election security:

There were uniformed security personnel on election duties present at all the polling stations observed.

There were uniformed security patrols countrywide. Security personnel on election duties conducted themselves professionally.

Media

There was unhindered media coverage of the voting process.

There was high presence of the media and responsible coverage of the election in line with IEC protocols.

There was presence of domestic observers at the polling stations mainly from WANEP, NHRC, CSO Coalition on Elections, Gambia Participate and Elections Watch Committee. Officials from ECOWAS, Embassies and High Commissions, the Commonwealth and international NGOs based in The Gambia also monitored the elections.

Voter intimidation, inducement

In Banjul, there were reported tensions between NPP and UDP supporters which prompted the intervention of the Paramilitary Intervention Unit.

At several polling stations in Banjul there were allegations of voter inducement by NPP supporters.

In Banjul there were allegations of party militants seen loitering close to polling stations despite attempts by security personnel to disperse them.

As was also observed during the Councillorship elections, NPP militants in identifiable NPP vehicles were seen at polling stations allegedly intimidating voters.

Recommendations

The government should ensure minimum standards of gender representation as recommended by legislation are adhered to by the Government among IEC commissioners and senior management staff; undertake urgent legal and institutional reforms, including the expeditious enactment of the Elections Bill 2020; to modernize the electoral system for greater efficiency, transparency, and accountability in elections and provide the NCCE with adequate human, financial and material resources so that it can effectively deliver on its mandate and main functions and promote devolution of authority and decentralization of power.

The IEC should be more proactive in its communication with the public by providing timely information on all phases of the electoral processes; in this regard, it is also encouraged to ensure updated information is provided on its website;

Ensure adequate training for its staff to provide efficient election services; in this regard IEC is encouraged to make use of technology for effective compilation and timely release of election results; provide adequate orientation to the people it recruits for election duties to avoid the incidence in Faji Kunda Bajonkoto where voting was temporarily halted for lunch break; ensure polling facilities and election information are accessible by Persons with Disabilities; provide continuous refresher training for journalists on election matters and strictly enforce the electoral laws and guidelines. 

Political parties should assume their responsibilities as key electoral stakeholders in maintaining the integrity of the electoral system by adhering to electoral laws and standards and promoting popular participation and intra-party democracy; continually preach peace and political tolerance, and promptly condemn bigotry and hate speech by their supporters; be more committed to the effective functioning of the IPC.

The NCCE should use every available channel to continuously sensitise citizens on the importance of local elections and civic participation in the overall governance and development of The Gambia; the IEC, NCCE, IPC should continue to sensitize Gambians to know that elections are not a do or die affair and that they are only a component of democracy and NCCE should sensitize the population to understand that candidates/ appointees don’t have to come from their ethnic group, party, religion, region, or constituency to serve them well.

Civil society should advocate for the enhanced political participation and representation of youth and women, including through affirmative action, mentorship, and training in public speaking; support Persons with Disabilities who are interested in participating in politics at the local levels; continue radio/TV programs talking about peace; get people conscientised, educated and shown outcome of violence, and teach community on conflict resolution mechanisms.

The media should not allow intemperate language; misinformation, disinformation, hate speech and unsubstantiated allegations on their networks and strengthens its capacity on elections reporting through partnership with the Media Council and the Gambia Press Union.

The IPC should:

Conclusion

In conclusion, we are concerned about the low voter turnout for this mayoral and chairperson elections and the Local government elections in general compared to the National Assembly and presidential elections. In this regard, we wish to urge voters to recognize and appreciate the significance of every election in their lives and that of their children, and to actively participate in them.

Considering the trends of the two most recent elections, stakeholders in our elections, notably NCCE, IEC, TANGO, WANEP and other players, should begin to interrogate the factors that are responsible for voter apathy in the electorate, particularly the youth, and what strategies should be put in place to positively influence voter behaviour of young people and significantly increase voter turnout.

Sporadic violence between party supporters, voter inducement and intimidation, incitement to violence, attacks on tribal lines and hate speeches at political rallies characterized the campaign period of the elections. Political tension in Banjul and some other areas across the country were also observed on polling day. We wish to urge political leaders and political parties to take firm stance against hate speech, tribalism, bigotry, political violence, and all acts that have the potential to undermine social cohesion and unity, and the integrity and peaceful conduct of elections. Furthermore, we wish to encourage political parties, candidates, and the electorates in general to always respect and adhere to the IEC Code of Conduct and Peace Pledge.

As we come to the end of the 2021-2023 electoral cycle, we wish to encourage all political leaders to reconcile their differences, preach national unity and peaceful co-existence, work together for peace, progress, and prosperity, and promote tolerance, inclusivity and diversity.

Women represent fifty-two per cent (52%) of the population and about 57 percent of the electorate. However, they are disproportionately underrepresented in both the National Assembly and the Local Government Authorities. To enhance women’s political participation, we wish to exhort both the government and political parties to put in place and effectively implement affirmative measures or a quota system which would increase women’s representation in all elected bodies, including the Cabinet.

Elections are financially expensive to conduct and for a country like The Gambia it would have to depend on the financial and technical support of development partners to successfully implement such an exercise. As such, we wish to request both the IEC and the government to seriously consider combining the presidential and parliamentary elections as well as the councillor and Mayoral/Chairperson elections.

Finally, we want to heartily commend Gambians for their patriotism and patience throughout this election cycle. We applaud the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) for its leadership and immense contribution towards the holding of free, fair, and peaceful elections.

We urge all stakeholders to utilise laid-down procedures to seek redress on any electoral grievance. The consortium will soon release a comprehensive report on this electoral cycle.

Thank you. Long Live The Gambia.

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