As The Gambia heads to the polls in December for the first presidential election post-Yahya Jammeh era, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has established various registration centers across the country. But the challenge is beyond the registration of voters alone. It’s about the degree of trust of the electoral process after the post-dictatorship transition government failed to pass a new Constitution prompting Gambians to go to the polls under the same rules every politician decried in 2016.
Over a week after the registration process has begun, IEC has claimed to have enrolled 191,509 Gambians in its voters’ registry. Yet, the registration process is gradually being marred with allegations and counter-allegations of fraud in issuing attestations to access the voter’s cards. The attestations’ issuance was one of Yahya Jammeh’s wild cards to bug the registration process with ghost voters. And since President Adama Barrow’s government has failed to change the Jammeh electoral laws, the former dictator’s wild card remains. But unlike Yahya Jammeh’s era when APRC has exclusive control of the local government, issuers of attestations are evenly split between the incumbent regime and his opposition. UDP, APRC, NPP, NRP, and other parties have somehow each its Alkalolus or Mayors. Beyond any reasonable doubt, no proof has been exhibited to substantiate such claims by either claimant from the incumbent coalition or the opposition.
The chronicle spoke to the officials of some political parties to know their opinions about the registration process. Although they tend to cast doubt on the process, notably the issuance of attestations by local government officials and traditional Alkalolus, our politicians seem to desire to see the electoral process move through and be completed without hindrance.
MC Cham Jr., the Youths president of Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC), said his party is highly concern about the Gambian people coming out and register en masse for the voter’s card.
He said the GDC is seizing the opportunity to mobilize its voters at the grassroots level. The GDC youth leader regrets that the diaspora is still kept aside in the voters’ registration process. Yet MC Cham encourages Gambians in the diaspora to tell their families to register and vote during elections.
“If you look at the voter’s registration process, it is slow, and it’s very stressful. This is not the first time IEC is giving out voters’ cards, and it ought to know how to make things work fast,” said Mr. Cham.
Dodou Jah, the deputy spokesperson and APRC director of media, said his party would sensitize the people about getting a voters card and telling them what Gambian documents required them to register.
But APRC is accused of establishing the issuance of attestations by local government officials during Yahya Jammeh’s rule, who had absolute control of the local government position holders.
As the allegations of mayors and Alkalolus issuing attestations on a partisan basis continue to grow, Dodou Jah said, “In any country you go to, you cannot hundred percent secure that a non-citizen cannot acquire Gambian documents. But, unfortunately, that has been happening, it is happening still, and it will continue to happen. It happens with our national ID card, birth certificate, and even our voter’s card,” Dodou Jah said.
Ousainou Mboob, the regional Administrative secretary of UDP, said his party is optimistic that the voter’s registration process will be successful. “It seems already late by now for people in the diaspora to vote during the coming elections because the process is lengthy. Those in the diaspora needed to be registered with an ID card, and it was not evident that some of them have the document and can vote during this election. Therefore, I’m not sure that advocating for their voting this year would make a difference,” said Mr. Mboob.
The Minister of Communications of the Gambia, Ebrima Sillah, told Coffee Time’s Peter Gomez that the problem is more about a diligent issuance of attestations and the slow pace of registration at the IEC centers. Sillah particularly mentioned the populated West Coast Region where, according to him, IEC needs to quickly come up with corrective measures to address the complaints of people queuing unsuccessfully for days to get a voter’s card.