Thursday, April 15, 2021

Political Parties Call for Review of 2020 Elections Bill

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By Yankuba Jallow

Representatives of different political parties who attended a two-day workshop organised by the Inter-Party Committee (IPC) have unanimously pushed for a review of the 2020 Elections Bill.

The IPC organised the workshop as an induction for new political parties on their memorandum of understanding and the code of conduct for political parties as well as discussed the Elections Bill which seeks to repeal the existing Elections Act.

The Elections Bill was discussed on Saturday while the Inter-Party Committee’s Article of Association and Memorandum of Understanding were deliberated on Friday.

Honourable Musa Amul Nyass, the co-chairperson of the IPC said the 2020 Elections Bill seeks to repeal the existing Elections Act.

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“There is need for thorough scrutiny of the Bill, thus, the need for ample time to do that,” he said.

There was a scheduled press conference organised by the IPC on Saturday which failed to hold as planned.

Hnourable Nyassi said the participants at the workshop observed that they needed more time to look into the Elections Bill and make their positions known.

“What we have as a Bill has a lot of inconsistencies with the [1997] Constitution which is the supreme law of the land. If the Constitution is saying ‘this’, the Bill in some aspects is saying ‘that’,” Nyassi said.

The lawmaker said because of the inconsistencies, the political parties requested from the IPC to organise another two-day workshop to look into the Bill in detail.

Nyassi is also the spokesperson of APRC. He said his party is asking for the level of preparedness of the Gambian electorates to go into paper balloting.

“How much sensitisation has been done and have there been any trials to assess people’s level of understanding on how to use the paper ballot system? Where are we going to generate the paper ballots that we will be using for voting? Is it the IEC that will produce it or is it going to be contracted? Who is going to be responsible for it? It is important for us to know who is going to be in custody of the ballot papers that will be provided to the people to vote,” the member for Foni Kansala said.

Alagie Bayo, the Public Relations Officer of the Gambia Action Party (GAP) said the Elections Bill lacks consistency. He said most of the things that were agreed at the last validation workshop were left out in the final Bill.

Bayo said partnership and coordination was missing.

“I can say it is a non-starter. The way and manner this Bill is, if it goes to the parliament [National Assembly] it will not pass the second reading,” Bayo said.

He said some of the clauses in the Elections Bill are inconsistent with the provisions of the 1997 Constitution.

“I don’t understand why our views were not captured after having a review of three consecutive validations. I was expecting to see a finished product [and] not a ‘non-starter product.’ The Bill is completely different from what we developed at the International Conference Centre in Senegamabia,” Bayo said.

Bayo said if consensus is not built around this, the Bill is likely to fail which will be a waste of resources and time.

“We want to see a finished product that will defend our constitution. The Bill has to succumb to the Constitution because the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the land. The Bill as it is now is a non-starter,” Bayo said.

On paper ballot voting system, Bayo said GAP wouldn’t want to have a new voting system which will contradict people’s opinion as to how they want to vote.

He said there is not sufficient time to educate voters on how to use the paper ballot system.

“We are saying let us relinquish the idea of  the paper ballot system and go back to the marble voting system,” Bayo said.

He said the idea of paper ballot system should be used in 2026 because it would have given the country enough time to prepare for it.

Dodou Jah, the deputy spokesperson of APRC said most of the clauses that were unanimously agreed upon during the last validation workshop were left out in the Elections Bill.

“There were sections and clauses that we all agreed upon, but what we are presented here today [as the Election Bill] we have seen differences,” Jah said.

The APRC deputy spokesperson said said it was agreed at the validation workshop that the deposit for presidential candidates to be five hundred thousand (D500,000) for political parties while independent candidates should pay seven hundred and fifty thousand (D750,000), but majority said one million dalasis (D1,000,000).

“This is because political parties went through final spending – offices and the like, but the independent candidates don’t normally spend that much,” Jah said.

He said in the Elections Bill, the Commission (IEC) is recommending they will decide how much the independent candidates would pay.

“That was not what we agreed. Issues like this make us very worried. Why do you call for validation workshops when people give you their input, you sit and decide what you want. We feel that is not fair and transparent. They should accept what the people want,” Jah said.

Jah said there are a lot of insertions in the Elections Bill which are contrary to the 1997 Constitution.

“The Constitution is the supreme law of the land and if you want to bypass it you are planning to fail,” Jah said.

Jah said there is need for a review of the Bill so that they could make the necessary adjustments before passing it to the National Assembly.

The young politician said the Elections Bill is a progressive one, but was quick to add that the Gambia is not prepared to use paper ballot voting system in the 2021 presidential elections.

“I am not against paper balloting. It is my field – It is my work of life and I know what it entails. I always throw a lot of questions at them [IEC], but I am not getting answers,” Jah said.

Jah said the peace and tranquillity of the country is very important for him than to move away from the marble system to paper ballot voting system.

“We are not prepared for it [paper ballot voting system]. There is a lot of work that has to be done, but up to date nothing has started. Which format are we going to use? Are we printing or maintaining the number of registered voters – are you maintain the same ballot papers or extra? As per the Elections Bill I am seeing extra will be printing. What are the mechanisms in place to make sure that ballot stuffing won’t take place? Printing extra is what causes ballot stuffing,” Jah said.

He maintained that the people need to be sensitised on how to use ballot paper voting system. He said he is not sure whether the IEC will have time to sensitise people on the paper ballot system.

“They want to impose it on us,” Jah said.

He said the Elections Bill is not clear on

“IEC has to play a great role in it by going back to it [the Elections Bill] and ensure that they try to do some contrasting between what is in the Constitution and what the Bill is presenting. The issue of ballot paper is too confusing – who is responsible and how it will be done is not very clear,” Jah said.

He said the provisions in the Bill should be made clear to the people.

“We want it to be more explanatory to avoid people giving it different interpretation,” Jah said.

He said IEC should engage political parties.

“IEC always wait until last minute – when they have already decided to come and engage the political parties,” he said.

He said the IEC should work with the IPC adding the IPC has lawmakers and this will make their work easy.

Samba Baldeh, the administrative secretary of the Gambia Democratic Congress said the Elections Bill has several clauses that are inconsistent with the 1997 Constitution.

He said GDC is with the view that the country is not ready for paper ballot and there is great need for sensitisation on the paper ballot system.

He said paper balloting should not be introduced now adding it could be used in 2026 presidential elections.

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