By Nelson Manneh
Pease Ambassadors The Gambia have recently asked political parties to enlarge the space for women, youth and persons with disability (PWD) to have opportunity to be elected at all levels of decision making.
Between December 2020 and March 2021, Pease Ambassadors observed the congress of five political parties in The Gambia in the lead up to the 2021 presidential election scheduled for December 4th 2021.
The objectives of the observations were to ascertain the credibility of the congresses whether they were free, fair, inclusive and transparent, whether the congresses were conducted in accordance with party constitutions, the Electoral Act and other operational guidelines. It was also aimed at ascertaining the extent political parties were following COVID-19 preventive measures.
Yankuba Manjang the Executive Secretary of PAG said Political Party Congresses are the platforms through which political parties in The Gambia select or elect their party leaders and candidates standing for elective positions within the party structures or vying for elective positions with other political parties in a general election. Party congresses are conducted in accordance with the party constitution, the Electoral Act, and other party operational guidelines. Only qualified and registered members of a party are allowed to vote during party congresses.
He said during congresses of political parties, they observed that there was lack of clear guidelines for the conduct of party congresses; there were no security personnel on the ground in some cases, lack of accreditation of delegates in some instances, unaccredited delegates wanting to vote in some instances, delayed accreditation of observers (the PAG) in some cases, limited enforcement of COVID-19 preventive measures in most cases (particularly, absence of social distancing), limited knowledge by delegates about the congress and party processes among others.
“Over the years, civil society participation in party congresses in The Gambia was virtually nonexistent. This is perhaps, the first major civil society attempt to observe party congress in the Gambia in recent history. The PAG is grateful to the various political parties that granted it accreditation to observe their congresses thus far. The PAG is also grateful to its development partner, the National Democratic Institute for the financial and technical support to undertake this venture,” he said.
He said the methodology they used for the process was aimed at ascertaining whether the congress was conducted in compliance with its party constitution, whether the congress was inclusive whether it accommodated women, youth and persons with disabilities, whether the congress was conducted in compliance with 1EC and other 1aws of the country, whether equal opportunity was given to all the contestants vying for various party positions. It was also aimed at ascertaining the capacity of the party to resolve issues in connection with the congress, whether the congress was conducted in a peaceful, free, fair and transparent manner among others.
“We recommended that political parties should engage the public more with their party constitutions, programs and policies to evoke more citizens engagement Parties are urged to embark on early civic and political process engagement tor party members to understand the principles and rules of party policies, processes and activities, engagements including congresses.
Parties are urged to disseminate their party documents such as their constitution, code of conducts, and other operational guidelines etc as part of its civic and political education process. In several jurisdictions, these documents are published on the party’s official websites,” he said.
He further indicated that they recommend for parties to stick to their congress schedules and avoid late commencement of proceedings as observed in some cases.
“Parties are encouraged to follow their constitutions and other party guidelines and internal codes of conduct to minimize conflicts arising from congresses. Parties are encouraged to reform their internal rules of engagement to provide for clear mechanisms for dispute resolutions,” he said.
Since the country is yet to exit from the COVID-19 pandemic, he said political parties should follow all the COVID-19 prevention protocols as stipulated by the government and the world health authorities when conducting political activities. Parties are encouraged to make Congress venues more PWD friendly and accessible.
“The presence of EC officials in some of the congresses as observers is highly commendable and should be sustained, as it reminds the parties that their activities and processes are being monitored by independent observers,” he noted.