Our Elections Act at a crossroads

Thursday, June 25, 2015
The Elections Act, the principal law that governs the conduct of elections in The Gambia, is in the process of being amended, once again.

Approval or rejection of the amendments that have been effected in the Elections Act was to be done on Tuesday 23 June 2015 by the people’s representatives at the National Assembly, but that didn’t happen, as tabling and debating the bill at the Assembly has been postponed to 30 June for, among other things, reconsideration of some of its clauses.

The Point was privileged to have gone through a copy of the entire amendment. Quite a few points in the new bill are positive, as they could strengthen internal democracy and vibrancy of the political parties.

However, there are many clauses, which when they are let go, could kill multi-party democracy in The Gambia by making it almost impossible for opposition parties to contest in future elections.

One of the very positive things about the amendment is that it would certainly lay to rest the perennial problem between opposition parties and the police about permits to hold political rallies.

With the passage of this new bill, granting of permits for political activities like rallies will no longer be done by the police, but the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

Also, very positive about the amendment is making it mandatory for all the parties to have an internal congress, every two years.

It is good that the amendment captures this salient point to make it a legal requirement for the parties to go to congress, where they can possibly elect a new executive. This will change the customary practice of the same people leading a party for decades.

On-the-spot counting is also well captured in the amendment. The new amendment now obliges the IEC to conduct vote counting at each polling station. This is necessary to promote transparency and accountability, and do away with the fear of election rigging.

One thing that we are ambivalent about is the provision that all executive members of political parties have to be resident in The Gambia.

We thought this should not be an issue because as long as you are a Gambian, and have the interest of the development of the country at heart, it should not matter whether you are in or out of the country.

With the passage of this clause, Gambians on international appointment and on foreign mission will be disqualified from the executive post of any political party.

Having said that, one of our main concerns with the amendment is regarding the increment of fees.

With this amendment, the registration fee for new political party has increased to a staggering D1 million.

Not only that, it requires registered parties to pay a non-refundable fee of D1 million to have the candidature of their presidential candidate endorsed in each presidential election, in future. Previously, it was only D10,000.

Just like presidential candidates, parliamentary candidates have to ‘deposit’ D100,000 instead of D5,000 to contest in elections.

Similarly, mayoral candidates have to also deposit D50,000 instead of D2,500; and councillors D10,000 instead of D1,500.

Yes, we agree that some of the initial deposits, particularly that of presidential candidates, were very minimal. But the way it is increased is really on the high side, considering the fact The Gambia is a least developed country and one of the ten poorest countries in the world.

Certainly, it will not be too good to compare the presidential deposit of The Gambia with other countries, whose economies are far bigger.

Before comparing how much presidential candidates in other countries are paying, one should also compare the gross domestic product and the per capita income levels of both countries as well.

We are concerned that passing these amendments would amount to legally obstructing the participation of opposition parties, in the democratic process of the country.

In addition, obliging political parties to be submitting yearly audited accounts to the IEC should also be reconsidered. These things happen mostly in countries where political parties receive a subvention from the government.

Now the ball is in the court of the National Assembly members, and the whole nation is watching.

May we remind all of the paradigm shift in the adage that “the evil that men do lives after them”; now it has become “the evil that men do lives with them”.

So, Mr/Mrs National Assembly Member, be cautioned and cautious in going about passing the bill, knowing that the future of our democratic processes now lies in your hands.

“It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.”

Tony Robbins