By Kebba Jeffang
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) on Tuesday, September 06, 2016 convened a press conference to launch its activities leading to the December 1st Presidential election at the Election House in Kanifing.
The event also witnessed interventions from representatives of the political parties in the country, especially from the opposition, who took the opportunity to raise some of the challenges they face during the election process and that need to be addressed by the IEC in order to ensure a free and fair presidential election.
Presenting his statement, Mr. Alieu Momarr Njai, the IEC Chairman, said the Commission this year has a very busy engagement. He said some of the activities they were implementing included the supplementary registration of voters which commenced from 14 January to 12 March earlier this year.
The IEC Chairman said the total number of registrants during the supplementary exercise is 89, 649 people. He said the number of voters now stands at 886, 578 as opposed to 2011 general registration which recorded 769, 929. He also said that the number of polling stations has risen from 1300 in 2011 to 1422 this year.
“There is a replacement of lost, mutilated and defaced cards going on at the election house and all IEC regional offices. This exercise commenced on 1st June and will end on the 29th September 2016. A replaced voting card attracts a minimal fee of D100,” he said.
The head of national election operations also noted that a re-demarcation of some constituencies was carried out and the number of constituencies has now increased to 53 from 48. He said a fresh registration was not conducted in the affected areas but the Commission will resort to putting constituency stickers on the voting cards of the affected voters to bring that situation in consonance with the law on Election Day.
Dilating further on the importance of this forthcoming national event, he said elections are universally recognized to form a very important role in safeguarding the desired peaceful environment of any nation. He said the stance of the IEC is to set out to define election integrity as a set of standards based on democratic principles, measures and mechanisms for protecting free and fair elections.
“An election is the outcome of a complex process requiring the participation of a multitude of players such as election officials, government officials, political parties and politicians, security agents, civil society organsiations, donor agencies, the media, diplomatic missions, the judiciary and above all, the electorate. This is to say that the electoral process of the Gambia is a business for all and that we all have to endeavour to see the full realization of a strong electoral process which stands out to be admired by others in the region and the world at large, he added.
Mr. Njai therefore appealed to all stakeholders to avoid violence of any sort and make this election violent free.
“The public is hereby informed that the IEC, acting under Section 47 of the Constitution and 42(1) of the Election Act will receive nomination of candidates for the said election of the President of the republic of the Gambia from 7th to 10th November between the hours of 8am to 4pm at the headquarters,” he said.
Mr. Njai further informed that the campaign period for the said election will commence from Wednesday 16th November, to Tuesday, 29th November, 2016. He said nomination papers can be collected from the IEC from 3rd October.
On the day of election, the IEC Chairman said the polling stations will open at 8am and close at 5pm while counting of the ballots will be done immediately after the close of the polls, meaning the polling stations would be converted to counting centers. He said throughout the electoral process, political party agents are present from the registration to declaration of results. “Therefore, the electoral process is transparent, free and fair,” he said.
Regarding voter education, the IEC Chairman said his office in partnering with the National Council for Civic Education (NCCE) and other stakeholders in order to engage on massive voter sensitization. “This is made possible with funding from the government and UNDP,” he added.
He also noted that “the Interparty Committee has been reactivated and they meet periodically at the Election House. This is a forum in which political parties discuss issues pertinent to politics, elections and the electoral environment.”
Mr. Njai concluded that the theme of the election cycle is “The Gambia decides; I am voting. are you?”
In the interventions of party representatives during the question and answer session, the issues that were raised include the need to increase the short duration of the 14 days of official campaign period, support for party agents to be represented at all the polling stations to monitor both the voting and counting processes in the interest of transparency and ensuring the credibility of the election, address any confusion to voters arising from the newly demarcated constituencies, prevent government, local government and ruling party officials, other than the party agents, from visiting polling stations to intimidate and influence voters, among others.
The IEC officials, however, gave assurance that all the concerns raised will be looked into and addressed.
The electoral officials who were at the press conference included Mr. Malleh Sallah, Vice Chamber, Mr. Anthony Robert Secka, Member, Lamin Cham, Member, Mr. Sambujang Njie, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) and senior members of staff.
Mr. Joseph Colley, who is in charge of communication at IEC, chaired the press conference.