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CSO coalition says election free and fair But…

Nov 28, 2011, 11:33 AM | Article By: Yusuf Ceesay

The Civil Society Organizations (CSO) coalition has said that the 24th November presidential election in The Gambia was free and transparent, and that voters were not forced to influence their vote and there existed adequate information for voters.

Speaking at a press conference convened Friday, Pamela Cole, National Coordinator of the West Africa Network on Peace Building (WANEP) on behalf of the Coalition, said considering that the fairness of election cannot be determined on Election Day alone, and that election is a continuous process that never ends in a democracy, the CSO coalition has submitted an opinion on the fairness, freeness and transparency of the election on the voting day alone, and not on the electoral process.

The CSO Coalition, she said, consist of 29 national NGOs founded purposely for participating in electoral processes of The Gambia.

According to her, the principal objectives of the coalition, since its establishment in 1996, are to enable Gambians to take part in national elections, to ensure such elections are conducted according to the law and in a free, fair and transparent manner.

She added that it was in line with those objectives that the coalition aims to promote civic awareness, peace building, good governance and respect for human rights, among others, to better the standard of living among the people.

She revealed that the coalition in this presidential election 2011 deployed 130 domestic observers throughout the country to observe the opening and closing of polls, counting process of the polls, and to determine the extent of fairness and transparency in the elections.

“Preliminary reports gathered by our observers indicated that the voting commenced on time, and appropreciate procedures were followed even though instances of delays in the start of voting were observed,” she added.

Ms Cole remarked that their observers also reported that in some polling stations party agents were not available.

They also said that the voting process was orderly and peaceful, though some voters have difficulties in locating their right place for voting.

“We also observed that in most parts of the country, the closing of polls was done at the stipulated time. In some parts of the Greater Banjul Area, we observed that prolonged voting was done as certain people came at the polling stations well after 1600 hours to demand that polls be re-opened till after 1800 hours without any official announcement of such by the IEC chairman, or public media,” she added.

Regarding the counting of votes, Ms Cole noted that this was done in a calm, secure and peaceful environment, and according to procedures.

She stated that there was large turnout of voters, and the process was brisk, especially early in the day. “Voting was largely calm across the country,” she stated.

Ms Cole also noted that they have observed high level of commitment among voters and between polling staffs and agents as well as election observers.

However, she expressed concern that some non-IEC officials were issued with election duty certificates, especially in the Bakau area on the spot by the presiding officers and allowed to vote as well as the extension of poll time.

She said their observers noticed the absence of party agents in some polling stations, as well as the presence of unauthorized persons, contrary to the IEC rules.

“Instances were observed that drums could not be seal properly using metals wires provided to seal the drums”, she went on, and also spoke of a tendency for “limited live coverage of the election by local independent/public media to keep the public abreast of the process in ensuring freeness, fairness and transparent of the vote”.

“The CSO coalition observers also noticed the presence of under-aged voters in the queue, in some polling stations,” said Ms Cole.

She added that they have “recommended that the IEC ensures more extensive and intensive training of staff well before elections”.

The CSO coalition concluded by commending Gambians for holding the election in a peaceful manner.