The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to The Gambia has released its Final Report, providing a comprehensive assessment of the electoral process against The Gambia’s laws, as well as its regional and international commitments to democratic elections. The Final Report also includes a list of 31 recommendations for consideration by the authorities and other electoral stakeholders on how to improve future elections, granting the electorate full enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms.
The Final Report follows up on the mission’s Preliminary Statement, released at a press conference in Banjul on 8 April. The mission’s initial conclusion was - “Goodwill on behalf of the people and institutions of The Gambia provided for the restoration of key democratic rights”.
The EU EOM concluded that the broad trust in the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) coupled with a genuine political competition offset the notable shortcomings in the electoral legal framework. The engaging and peaceful campaign was followed by an orderly election day. However, the collation of results lacked transparency and significant differences as to the number of voters per constituency impacted on the equality of the vote. While the media strove to equip voters with knowledge crucial to making informed choices, and organised debates between candidates, a genuine editorial independence of the public broadcaster is yet to be achieved. The post-election environment was marked by public pronouncements from some political leaders critical of the presidential tour and its impact on the campaign, yet formal complaints were not submitted.
“These, in many ways very challenging, elections were a decisive step in The Gambia’s democratic transition. The European Union, as a friend and a partner of The Gambia, stands ready to support the efforts of the authorities and other electoral stakeholders to follow up on the recommendations that are listed in our Final Report,” stated the EU EOM to The Gambia Chief Observer Miroslav Poche, Member of the European Parliament from the Czech Republic. The EU EOM was deployed on 13 March 2017, following an invitation from the IEC, and on election day comprised over 50 observers deployed across the country. The EU EOM members were drawn from EU Member States, as well as Norway and Switzerland.
This week the Chief Observer presented the mission’s Final Report and recommendations to the IEC, the Government of The Gambia, political parties and civil society.
“It is important to strengthen the institutional independence of the IEC by establishing an inclusive mechanism for the selection and appointment of the IEC Chairperson and Commissioners; by ensuring the security of the IEC Commissioners’ tenure, and by providing the IEC with full sovereignty over its budget,” said Mr. Poche. He noted, this time the IEC’s commitment to democracy delivered credible elections, yet to strengthen the integrity of results, it would be desirable to establish clear and coherent procedures for polling, counting, results transfer, and collation. “Fulfilment of this as well as of many other recommendations will require cooperation between various electoral stakeholders as well as an inclusive dialogue with civil society,” stressed the Chief Observer.
In its Final Report, the mission underlines the importance of continuous and extensive voter and civic education, as well as urging the establishment of an accurate voter register and the provision of timely opportunities for voter registration. The EU EOM also calls for the review of boundary delimitation provisions, advocates an enactment of detailed complaints procedures. It also considers, that an effective monitoring and reporting system for campaign finance throughout the campaign would help to level the playing field for contestants and would enable voters to form an accurate picture of candidates’ financial standing, essential to make an informed choice on election day. Further recommendations include legal measures to ensure the overall respect for freedom of expression and the genuine independence of the state broadcaster.
To promote women’s full enjoyment of equal rights, the EU EOM recommends the introduction of legal requirements for political parties to apply affirmative action gender policies. The mission also suggests that measures should be taken to respect the voting rights of persons with disabilities and to enhance their full participation in political life.
The EU EOM has identified the following 11 priority recommendations:
- Revise the legal requirements for registration as a political party.
- Establish the Boundaries Commission and enact legislation outlining the criteria for the demarcation of constituency boundaries, impartially and transparently, ensuring the equality of the vote, with legally binding permitted deviations from the national average number of voters per constituency.
Election Administration and Election Results:
- Strengthen the institutional independence of the IEC by: establishing an inclusive mechanism for the selection and appointment of the IEC Chairperson and Commissioners; by ensuring the security of the IEC Commissioners’ tenure; and by providing the IEC with full sovereignty over its budget; as well as a legal requirement for the IEC Commission to make joint decisions, particularly on results.
- Establish clear and coherent procedures for polling, counting, result transfer, and collation, in conjunction with the introduction of improved security measures of result and collation forms; as well as provide timely, participatory training of election staff and candidate agents on these procedures.
Voter Registration and Civic Education:
- Establish an accurate voter register and provide citizens with timely opportunities to register as voters, to update voter registration entries in case of error or change of place of residence, to remove deceased and other unqualified persons’ entries, with adequate time for display and challenge.
- Deliver extensive and continuous civic education which would ensure that all citizens are informed of their rights as citizens and voters. They would also be made aware of the role of elected institutions and of the main aspects of governance. Special programmes aimed at youth, women and persons with disabilities could also be developed and implemented. CSOs could play an active role in the promotion and implementation of these activities.
- Confer the power to conduct effective campaign finance oversight on the IEC or on a yet-to-be-established anti-corruption body. The respective body should be granted sufficient powers to monitor and enforce rules on campaign finance. To enhance transparency, financial reports of all parties and candidates could be published before and after the campaign period.
- Amend the legal framework for traditional and online media regarding content limitations and registration procedures; decriminalise defamation and lift online media’s liability for third-party content, consequently bringing the overall legal framework into line with The Gambia’s international commitments regarding freedom of expression.
- Establish legal safeguards for the public service broadcaster’s editorial independence and financial autonomy.
Participation of Women:
- Introduce legal requirements, such as mandatory quotas, for political parties to apply affirmative action gender policies within their parties, in terms of integrating women into party structures and selecting women as party candidates. Such policies can be particularly effective when using the bottom-up approach. Enforcement measures could be linked to the ongoing registration of the political party. In any revision of the electoral system, introduction of quotas for female candidates could be considered.
Complaints and Appeals:
- The introduction of a detailed complaints procedure, with reasonable time limits for adjudication, should be considered. The procedure could regulate matters such as when, in what format and to which institution, complaints would be submitted and how they would be adjudicated upon.