Why The Gambia’s electoral commission needs to change!

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By Saul Saidykhan Two years ago this week, Yahya Jammeh brought The Gambia to the brink of civil war by rejecting the people’s verdict at the December 1, 2016 polls. Jammeh had no right to do so. But he was justified in complaining about the Electoral Commission which until then did EXACTLY what he wanted them to do. Like most things Jammeh, the “Independent” in the commission name is a farce – a cruel joke. All the Commissioners and discerning Gambians knew the Commission is anything but independent. For the previous twenty years, Jammeh had unilaterally picked the Electoral Commission’s Chair. He was forced to change the Electoral Commission’s fifth figurehead whose lawful tenure had long expired due to outside pressure earlier in 2016. For his replacement, Jammeh chose an unlikely candidate: Alhaji Alieu Momar Njai. Mr Njai is a curious candidate because he has a history of controversy. He was arrested and prosecuted for corruption at one point by none other than Yahya Jammeh. Even a property in Kotu owned by Mr Njai is alleged to be built on public reserved land from the PPP era. So if there is anyone who’ll tow his line, and do his bidding, it’s Mr Njai. Or so Yahya Jammeh thought! Thankfully, Mr Njai defied all expectations and refused to subvert the will of Gambians like his predecessors did. However, Mr Njai continues to preside over a Commission that is at best very incompetent. The excuse it gave Yahya Jammeh to reject the Presidential poll results in December 2016 – adding a Regional figure to the tally of the wrong candidate is as baffling as it is inexcusable. An average high schooler with Intermediate skills in Spreadsheets wouldn’t make any such mistake. One would wish this was a one-off fluke, but even in the new dispensation, the Gambia’s Electoral Commission hasn’t gotten its act together. In the National Assembly elections, they miscounted the number of seats won by different parties, and in the Municipal Council elections, they mishandled the results of the Kuntaur Area Council polls such that there is still doubt in many minds about the true final results. Yet, ALL these issues are wholly avoidable by training staff on simple AVAILABLE technology! If an Electoral Commission cannot accurately count the results of elections, what’s the basis for its existence? Now, if any of this is news to you, you’ve probably never looked closely at the IEC’s official data. From the number of Registered Voters, to the votes counted, there is no shortage of errors or befuddling figures. The Gambia started direct Presidential elections in 1982, the IEC was created by Jammeh in 1996. In its first outing in 1996, it still lists a total Registered Voters count of 446,541. In fact, the correct figure is 446,419 according to its OWN data details. (Their total is greater than the sum of the parts.) The IEC is Over-counting URR by 90 voters, and CRR by 32 (total Overage of 122!) In the Brikama admin region, the number of registered voters increased by 89,061 from 2006 to 2011, but the votes cast increased by 110,672 – a 106% jump for the same period! Many of their figures simply beggar belief -mind numbingly! The following summaries will show the figures-inclined all they need to see to know the current IEC isn’t up to the task. I’ve included the 1982-1992 presidential election results for perspective. On the supernatural growth of registered voters, keep in mind that the Gambia’s NET population growth rate is around 3.0% max (4.5% Birth rate, 1.9% mortality rate.) An important footnote about the Gambia’s Mortality rate is: the majority Muslim population DON’T ordinarily report the ‘home death’ of their loved ones to government authorities, thus causing chronic under-reporting of mortality rates. However, even using the generous figure of 3.0%, the IEC figures defy scientific arithmetic. This isn’t an ‘opinion’, it’s a mathematical fact. Simply use Jammeh’s 1996 Base Year figures, to calculate the expected Voters roll figures hence. (1996 Base Year figures x 3% pop Growth rate adjusted by ‘n’ -20 years.) The fraud is obvious. Did any of the IEC commissioners know about the scam being pulled on Gambians? If so, what did they do about it? If no, did they ever bother to look at their own figures? What’s obvious to me is, we either have Electoral Commissioners who were complicit with Yahya Jammeh in making a fool out of Gambians, or are simply out of their depths. Either way, things have to change. Without a competent and honest Electoral Commission, Gambians won’t have the ability to hold political leaders accountable by the ballot box. My take? Except for Mr Njai, the latecomer, ALL long-term IEC commissioners need to be replaced! This mindset of allowing adults to use Yahya Jammeh as an excuse for their own moral depravity is shameful. Here are relevant summaries:]]>

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