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Confusion over election campaign period

Oct 5, 2011, 2:03 PM | Article By: Baboucarr Senghore

Confusion erupted at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) yesterday following argument between representatives of political parties and the Commission, about the stipulated 11 days official campaign period for the forthcoming Presidential Election slated for Thursday 24th November.

While opposition party leaders declared that the stipulated time frame for the campaign, which runs from the 12th to 22nd November, is “grossly inadequate”, the IEC chairman, Alhaji Mustapha Carayol, said the campaign will take place as scheduled, and the dates cannot be changed.

The deputy IEC chairman, Malleh Sallah, added that not changing the dates does not mean that the election will not be free and fair.

“In fact, this election will be the most free and fair election ever held in The Gambia,” he added.

Also raised at a press conference held at the Election House yesterday was the issue of people who registered more than once, and what measures the IEC should take to address such malpractices.

Halifa Sallah - PDOIS

First to raise the issue was Halifa Sallah, Secretary General of the Peoples Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), who asked for the views of the IEC on the need to review the campaign period from the stipulated 11 days to something closer to three weeks or a month.

“The IEC has up to 30 days since after the date of nomination is declared before elections. So we are considering a review of the campaign period from the 11 days to something closer to a month or three weeks,” he said.

Sallah also said he is not insisting that those who registered more than once, and failed to surrender the other cards be taken before a court, but is insisting that the IEC publishes the names of those people to shame them, so as to avoid a repetition of such malpractice.

“Something ought to be done to teach those people and the rest of the Gambian people that to conduct themselves in such a way is not only unlawful, but disgraceful,” Sallah stated.

Ousainou Darboe - UDP

Ousainou Darboe, leader of the opposition United Democratic Party, UDP, stated that a free and fair election is more the business of Gambians than going through the motions of elections and making it the business of Gambians.

“It is not unprecedented for election dates to be announced and postponed. That is not unprecedented in the world. The law doesn’t say that when campaign periods are declared, it is not subject to change. The law doesn’t say so. I think the commission should be pragmatic about this, because this can be changed and it should be changed. Why do we have a shorter period,” he added.

According to Darboe, the opposition can go out to campaign, but the main issue is that of having coverage by the national television.

“We have seen the APRC having access to the television every minute of the day, selling their ideas and programmes, which we do not have,” he said.

Darboe believes that having access to the state media will give an indication that elections in The Gambia are really free and fair, and not something that has been done just to go through the motions. He noted that it is not immutable that IEC cannot change the campaign period, unless the Commission says that they are not going to change.

“The IEC should not fail its responsibility of having those who registered more than once face the consequences of the law, and that their names should be deleted. They have committed a crime, and they should not be allowed to benefit from the fruits of their crime,” Darboe went on, adding that they must face the consequences or otherwise the IEC will be compromising its credibility, and that would not bring feathers to their cap.

Hamat Bah - NRP

Also at the press conference was Hamat NK Bah, leader of the opposition National Reconciliation Party, NRP, who called on the IEC to address the issue of inconsistencies regarding the handling of cases by the revising courts as, in his view, non-Gambians have registered and are going to vote in the elections to decide the destiny of this country.

“We hope that the IEC will act as quickly as possible so that these things can be addressed. The time frame allocated for us to campaign is grossly inadequate. The APRC has been using the radio and television for over 1000 days, and we would only be allowed to use it within 11 days, which is sad,” Bah said.

According to him, the forthcoming presidential election is crucial, and that the opposition will not stand idle and wait for their victory to be robbed or for them to be robbed of victory.

“We will stand firm to defend our fundamental rights. The IEC has been compromising too much regarding those who have illegally registered themselves more than once. Those who have committed these crimes must not be allowed to vote, because they have already committed a crime. We are compromising too much, and the more we do that, the more we compromise the credibility of the system,” he added.

The NRP leader further opined that the country deserves a free and fair election.

“We are in a year of transformation, and Gambia cannot be an exception. Let’s go by the rule of law,” he told the gathering.

Samba Gajigo – APRC

Samba Gajigo, the Administrative Secretary of the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) expressed a different view.

He said the duration for the campaign is adequate.

“What is most important is for political parties to take advantage of the period they have now not necessarily holding rallies, but campaigning,” he said, adding that political parties must continue working as parties to ensure that they entrench their parties within their communities.

According to him, campaign periods are periods when tempers are usually high. He opined that election management is the business of everybody, but most importantly the business of the IEC, who needs to manage that period so well that it is devoid of excessive problems that would hinder the credibility of the elections.

“The IEC has the responsibility and the duty to look at the best time frame, and this is what they have done. I totally share the view that the period allocated is adequate,” he added.