Sunday, March 7, 2021

The Diaspora and the Electoral System

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The question of Diaspora participation has already been settled by the Constitution and the electoral laws.

Section 26 of the Constitution makes it abundantly clear that every Gambian citizen has a right to elect or be elected and no restriction should be imposed on such rights which are unreasonable and unjustifiable in a democratic society.
Section 26 paragraph (a) reads:

“Every citizen of The Gambia of full age and capacity shall have the right, without unreasonable restrictions to vote and stand for elections at genuine periodic elections for public office, which elections shall be by universal and equal suffrage and be held by secret ballot.”

Section 39 of the Constitution buttresses the right to vote as follows:
“Every citizen of The Gambia being of eighteen years or older and of sound mind shall have the right to vote for the purpose of elections of a President and members of the National Assembly, and shall be entitled to be registered as a voter in a National Assembly constituency for that purpose.”

Hence it is clear, regardless of residence, that, a Gambian citizen must be availed the opportunity to be registered as a voter and to vote in elections as well as participate in referenda.

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Section 11 of the Elections Act commands the IEC to register voters at home and abroad, without exception. Section 11 of the Act reads:

“The Commission shall prepare, compile and maintain in accordance with this Part, a register of voters for each constituency and a register of Gambian registered voters in foreign countries.”

Section 141 of the Elections Act is just another provision aimed at emphasising the need for getting Gambians abroad to participate in presidential elections: It reads:
“The Commission may make rules for Gambians in any foreign country to vote in a Presidential election.”

The IEC under the second Republic was compelled to ignore the mandate to involve Gambians abroad in the voting process. This must not be allowed again. Constitutional and electoral reform could only strengthen the already existing provisions mandating Gambians in the Diaspora to participate in elections.

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