By Nelson Manneh
Peace Ambassadors The Gambia (PAG) has at a press conference over the weekend stated that their 2021 voter registration report indicated that in the Basse Administrative Region, about 68% voters were registered using attestations.
They also indicated that in Mansakonko Administrative Region, about 60% of the voters got their voter’s cards through attestations.
PAG during the 2021 general voter registration served as domestic observers as they deployed their officers in all the regions to observe the process.
Yankuba Manjang, the Executive Director of PAG, cited the case of The Gambia Participates and the Centre for Research and Policy Development, and the Councilor for Box Bar Ward, Banjul North who filed a suit on June 23rd, 2021 against the Mayor of Banjul, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Attorney General. He said in a landmark ruling, the High Court of The Gambia ruled that the actions of the Mayor of Banjul in issuing attestations to residents in the IEC’s general voter registration are in contravention of section 12 (2) (e) of the Elections Act.
“The court in its judgment also declared that only the revising court established in accordance with section 24 of the Elections Act can deal with the individual entries in the register of voters. This means that the High Court did not have the jurisdiction to question the lists of voters or remove any name from it. PAG further notes that the Display and Appeals process offers the opportunity for voters, political parties, and others to challenge the registration of a person if the person is thought to be ineligible,” he said.
Manjang said 385 of 472 reports indicated that some or many applicants utilized an attestation form as identification and 11 out of 472 reports indicated that all applicants used this method to register.
“The Attestation Form is an important mechanism that allows Gambians who lack another form of identification to register. PAG observer reports indicated that a good number of registrants used the attestations to register,” he said.
Manjang further said in 2020, the IEC released an electoral calendar for the conduct of voters’ registration and other activities in the electoral cycle. The registration exercise was initially scheduled to commence on the 14th of January, 2021, but was postponed at the last minute due to logistical reasons.
“Eventually, the exercise was rescheduled to commence May 29, 2021. Thus, between May 29 and July 11, 2021, the IEC conducted a voter registration exercise in The Gambia ahead of 2021 Presidential and 2022 Parliamentary elections,” he said.
He said a total of 1000 registration centers were established, a 20% increase from the 800 registration centers in 2016.
“By the IEC Operational Manual, each registration center was to be staffed by a team of four registration officials: a supervisor, a registration clerk, an operator: and a card issuer. Ahead of the exercise, the IEC released a movement plan indicating the dates each registration would be opened. Registration teams rotated to registration centers based on this movement plan. Registration centers were scheduled to open at 8:00 am and close at 5:00 pm,” Manjang said.
“The registration procedures require all applicants to appear in person at registration centers and applicants had to demonstrate that they were Gambian citizens and 18 years old or older at the time that they are due to vote on 4th December 2021. In addition, an applicant was required to be a resident of or born in the constituency where they registered.
“The legal framework for the conduct of the voter registration remained contentious. Although the registration exercise was conducted pursuant to the Electoral Act 2016, the act was specifically silent about the power of the Mayor of Banjul to issue attestations for registrants who could not present any other form of identification to register. Though very controversial, this is still important in our case as it extends the right to franchise too many citizens,” he said.
PAG said their report provides comprehensive information on reports from all PAG observers during the three phases of the observation period, adding during the voter registration observation (29th May to 11th July), PAG’s 53 observers submitted 472 reports reflecting their observations at 287 unique registration centers.
“Due to the small number of registration centers in some constituencies, some observers reported from the same center on multiple days,” Manjang said.
PAG is a voluntary non-profit peace education and advocacy organization operating in The Gambia, Senegal, and Guinea Bissau. Since its inception in 2001, peace education and conflict resolution have served as the basis of the organization’s existence.
“We incorporate other core issues such as youth empowerment, civic education, and election observation. These core programming areas are made possible through capacity building and awareness creation,” PAG said.
PAG has therefore since 2006 monitored every election held in The Gambia including presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections. The organization also conducts voter education to ensure the public is educated on the conduct of the elections in all aspects. This is the organization’s commitment to ensure peace and stability in the country. Presently, the PAG prides itself as the first CSO on Elections in The Gambia to commence long-term election observation work in The Gambia through the Elections Watch Project.
The objective of the PAG’s non-partisan citizen observation effort for 2021 voter registration called Election Watch Project 2021, is to enhance the credibility of the registration process, detect and deter electoral fraud and other problems along the way, and proffer recommendations to improve future exercises. The Election Watch Project 2021 is being implemented in partnership with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), with funding support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).