The Civil Society Coalition on Elections has expressed satisfaction with the conduct of the just concluded presidential election, but it has raised issues and made recommendations for improvement.
In its conclusion it states that, “Finally, the results of this election show that the Coalition led by President elect Adama Barrow has the mandate of the Gambian people to embark on the necessary democratic reforms which will guarantee sustainable economic development and durable peace and stability. The UN, AU, ECOWAS and EU should be ready to assist in such reforms.”
Below is the full text of the statement:
Election observation is a key element of building a stable democracy. In states that are undergoing democratic transition, election observers can build citizens’ confidence in the electoral process; while in states holding elections following a conflict, observers can help conflicting parties trust the election will be conducted fairly even if they do not yet trust each other.
This statement is our preliminary assessment of the presidential elections which was held on 1 December 2016. It reflects largely our observations on the pre-election environment, the polling day itself and the postelection phase.
Members of the Civil Society Coalition on Elections – The Gambia were able to deploy 124 observers across the seven regions in the country on Election Day. We will issue a Final Report containing our conclusions and recommendations on the entire process at a later stage and submit same to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), who will then transmit it to all the candidates and stakeholders. The Report will subsequently be released to all media houses and to the public in the coming weeks.
The Pre-Election Environment
The official campaign period was from 16 to 29 November 2016. The CSO Coalition developed indicators for monitoring electoral violence followed by trainings for Conflict monitors and election observers, with support from UNDP. Members of the CSO Coalition were able to observe some campaign activities. The CSO Coalition observed rallies of the ruling party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), and that of the opposition coalition, and the Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC). The CSO Coalition notes that all political parties commended the IEC for its increased openness and accessibility during this election and appreciate the good faith in which this assurance was given. Observers are however of the view that an extended campaign period, freedom of expression and of the press would have been preferable, and would have contributed to further levelling the playing field in this election.
The CSO Coalition commends political parties and the people of The Gambia for the peaceful manner in which the campaigns were generally held. We also commend the role of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) for regulating the campaign under the Code on Election Campaign Ethics Order (made under section 92 (1) of the Elections Act), and ensuring airtime on state media for all parties.
We do, however, have concerns on the following significant developments, which we felt resulted in an uneven playing field:
1 The 2016 presidential election campaign period lasted 14 days from 16-29 November.
Use of Public resources and advantage of incumbency
The CSO Coalition observed that the ruling APRC’s use of the state apparatus during the campaign period amounted to a serious abuse of incumbency.
The CSO Coalition observed on nomination day military personnel wearing green APRC T-shirts and party colours throughout the campaign. – Campaign Environment
During the brief campaign period the IEC ensured in an unprecedented manner that, all political parties have equal airtime on The Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) state television and radio, thereby ensuring the visibility of all political contenders.
A conciliatory tone by the incumbent was observed and the opposition reciprocated this gesture.
POLLING DAY The Election Day was peaceful and managed in accordance with the Constitution and Electoral Act 2009. The CSO Coalition was impressed by the high turnout of voters on Election Day, especially the large numbers or women and young people. The enthusiasm shown by Gambians for the election demonstrated their desire to contribute to the development of democracy in the country.
Most polling stations opened on time at 08:00 am. Polling stations were generally well-situated, easily accessible and polling officials and party agents present carried out their duties effectively in areas where CSO Coalition members observed. We noticed the active role of women and young Gambians as polling officials and party agents.
The 1997 Constitution enfranchises the younger generation between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one, provides for the rights of women, children and the disabled and establishes an Independent Electoral Commission. It prohibits tribalism and other forms of sectarianism in politics.
CSO Coalition members also noted the adequate security presence in polling stations across the country. Queue control was effectively handled and voters diligently directed. There were no major incidents or reports of overt acts of intimidation or violence during voting. Ballot drums were placed behind dark screens away from polling staff, party agents, voters, and observers. This ensured the secrecy of the vote as enshrined in the constitution. Open windows of school classrooms where ballot boxes had been placed were covered with improvised opaque materials. However, we came across few instances where voters with valid voter cards could not find their names on the register. We commend the IEC on its success.
CLOSING, COUNTING AND THE RESULTS PROCESS
At 5.00pm when polls closed, CSO Coalition members witnessed polling officials observing the closing procedures, such as the counting of the unused tokens and counting, with meticulousness in full view of polling agents, domestic and international observers. Throughout this period security was adequate and the local and international media present.
COMPLIANCE TO COUNTING PROCEDURES
The rules of counting were closely followed; presiding officers publicly announced ballot tokens supplied, those remaining as well as any invalid votes. The seals of the ballot drums were broken in full view of those present, emptied into a sieve and filtered, and the ballot-tokens systematically arranged into counting trays holding 200 to 500 marbles at a time. The counting trays were showed around and the number of votes loudly announced. Each candidate’s result was publicly announced and the trays holding their tokens shown around before the result was certified. After this, the results were collated and declared by the Assistant Returning Officer before being transmitted to the regional IEC office, and then to the IEC headquarters.
The Team was impressed by the general atmosphere of transparency and in some cases, collegiality, within which the closing and counting processes were conducted.
The CSO Coalition commends the swift announcement of results by the IEC on 2 December 2016, the day after the election. In any electoral process, there will always be room for improvement and these recommendations will feature in our final report. Nonetheless, we note the following technical improvements in this spirit: The number of polling stations has been increased from 1302 in 2011 to 1422 for the 1 December 2016 presidential election. This development has to a large extent addressed the problem of some polling stations in urban centres being large and overcrowded with long queues.
Democracy is a mechanism for peaceful co-existence among citizens. Therefore, expansion of the political space and tolerance for divergent views is crucial and provides the platform for citizens to vent their feelings in a fear free environment. Involving Civil Society in the electoral process and, in particular, in domestic election observation and monitoring electoral violence is one way of contributing to the smooth conduct of the elections in a peaceful environment while strengthening Gambian democracy. Free, fair, inclusive and credible elections are important aspects of democracy and contribute to maintaining peaceful societies. Therefore, continued involvement of the UN, AU, EU, ECOWAS and other stakeholders to support the Inter Party Committee for dialogue on potential electoral conflicts and to give it a statutory mandate will facilitate pre-electoral, electoral and post electoral dialogue in the country for human security in dignity and peace.
The IEC with UNDP support succeeded in hosting meetings of the Inter-Party Committee (IPC), a dialogue mechanism for political parties. This engagement should be commended and supported.
Finally, the results of this election show that the Coalition led by President elect Adama Barrow has the mandate of the Gambian people to embark on the necessary democratic reforms which will guarantee sustainable economic development and durable peace and stability. The UN, AU, ECOWAS and EU should be ready to assist in such reforms.