By: Kebba AF Touray
Gambians during an interview with this reporter have challenged the Independent Electoral Commission fondly called the IEC, to ensure proper COVID19 Measures at all the polling stations across the country. They made these expressions in relation to their views on how the pandemic can impact on the upcoming Presidential elections.
Fatoumatta Nyang, a cosmetic dealer, recalled that during the previous waves, especially the first wave, her business was compelled to close as part the strategies developed by the state to avert the further spread of the coronavirus disease.
“In this third wave if care is not taken, coupled with the strict adherence with the COVID19 precautionary measures, the pandemic may lead to voter apathy if there is surge in the number of cases. This is because those who happen to get infected and are not treated won’t be allowed to leave the treatment centers to go to the polling station to vote”, she said.
This she can if happens can lead to a massive voter apathy and thus the purpose of the election, of allowing the citizens to choose their choice of leader to steer the affairs of the state will be defeated, as those that who get affected with the disease will be miss to exercise their right to vote.
She has called on the IEC to collaborate with the government especially the Health Ministry, to ensure that proper measures are developed and implemented at all the polling stations to protect both the voters and the IEC officials, therein against the deadly virus.
Mariama Jammeh, grade 12 student recounted that the previous waves have devastating effect on her academic aspiration, with the closure of schools for almost 9 months, and decried that the online classes were not as effective as the normal classes.
“So the same way it has impacted on my academic performance it has the prowess to replicate the same effect on the upcoming elections if adequate care is not taking by strictly adhering to the safety measures provided by the health officials and the World Health Organization”, she remarked.
Therefore she said it is imperative for the IEC to partner and collaborate with the relevant authorities to ensure personal protective equipment are provided at all the centers, as well as ensure that safe distancing is duly followed on the day of election.
Mr. Lamin Dampha, the Executive Director of the Center for Policy, Research and Strategic Studies dubbed CepRass, said that over 75%of the respondents or electorate they have interviewed during their survey are not in favour of any postponement of the elections irrespective of what happens with the COVID-19.
“Instead, an overwhelming majority reported that the IEC should ensure that appropriate COVID-19 measures are put in place at polling stations on voting day, to ensure that the polling stations do not become spreading grounds for the COVID-19”, CepRess ED said.
He stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose threat to socio-economic and political activity across the globe. Recently, the country has experienced its third wave of the pandemic, which was more transmissible and deathlier than the first and second waves.
“As of 18th September 2021, the Gambia has recorded a total of 9,901 confirmed cases with 334 deaths and just 23 active cases. The COVID-19 vaccination drive started slowly but picked-up in July and August when 302,400 doses of the J&J vaccine were received by the country through the COVAX initiative”, said Mr. Dampha.
This Dampha stated the arrival of the said vaccination has boosted hopes that soon the country will shoulder away the health threats of the pandemic, and that so far 170,038 people (just about 12%of the target population) are fully vaccinated.
He however decried that the country is still miles away from the desired levels of national vaccination rates, adding that the goal was to reach 60% by end of this year, and as the situation currently stands, it is unlikely that this target will be met, thus the pandemic will continue to post a significant health risk in The Gambia.
“Therefore, there are concerns that the pandemic may affect the December 4th 2021 elections. Hence, in this survey the opinion of respondents or electorates was sought on what they think will be the impact of the pandemic on this year’s election. Specifically, whether it may lead to the postponement of the election and what the consequences of this might be”, said Dampha.
“On whether the COVID-19 may lead to the postponement of this year’s election, most of the respondents (45%) disagreed that the election may be postponed due to the COVID-19 situation with 10% disagreeing strongly. About 29%of the electorates strongly agreed that the election can be postponed due to the pandemic situation in the country.
He also said that regarding the effect of a postponement of the elections, 46%of the respondents reported that any postponement will be bad for the country, about 31%said that any postponement will be very detrimental to peace and stability of the country, about 16%of the respondents indicated that a postponement will be normal and about 7% reported that a postponement will be good with less than 1%revealing that such will be excellent.
He finally said that, the views of the electorate on COVID-19 leading to the postponement of December election show that majority of respondents strongly disagree that COVID-19 will lead to the postponement of the December election, and that majority also is of the view that should it happen due to COVID-19, the consequence can be detrimental or will be bad for two-third of the respondents.
“In terms of the protective mechanism, the IEC staff should be vaccinated before taking part in the election duties, observe safe distancing and putting in place hand washing stations within the poling centers”, ED Dampha.
This story was produced with support from Journalist for Human Rights (JHR), through its mobilizing media in the fight against COVID19 in partnership with Mai Media and Foroyaa Newspaper.