AU Observers: On the spot counting contributes to transparency in Gambian elections
Monday, April 02, 2012
The Observer Mission Team dispatched by the African Union (AU) to observe the 2012 National Assembly Election in The Gambia has confirmed that tallying and counting of votes at the polling stations immediately after the close of polls (on the spot counting) is remarkable and contributes to the transparency of the electoral process in The Gambia.
In a preliminary statement issued yesterday at a press conference held at Shereton Hotel, Brufut Height, the mission team led by Dr. Samuel Azu’u Fonkam, the president of the Independent Electoral Commission of Cameroon (ELECAM) said his team observed the March 29th National Assembly election of The Gambia within the spirit and letter of the Durban Declaration on the principles governing democratic elections in Africa. He said their purpose was to make an objective, independent and impartial observation in accordance with the AU guides for election observations and monitoring.
Based on these guides that the team, according to the leader, premised their observation on concluded that the March 29 National Assembly elections of The Gambia was conducted in a manner that the results truly reflects the will of the sovereign people of The Gambia.
The team observed that their presence at the March 29 Parliamentary polls in The Gambia constitutes an unequivocal commitment of the African Union to contribute to the promotion and strengthening of democracy and the rule of law on the continent.
He disclosed that the AU observer mission followed an invitation from the government of the Republic The Gambia and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), thus, the chairman of the AU Commission, H.E Jean Ping, appointed and sent an observer mission team, whose main objective was to make an honest, independent and impartial observation and the assessment of the organisation and of the election.
According to Azu’u, with respect to the AU guidelines for electoral observation and monitoring, the mission met and consulted with various stakeholders involved in the electoral process, such as the representations of the various political parties, the IEC, The Gambia Press Union (GPU), and the Civil Society Organization's Coalitions on Elections (CSOE).
He added that members of the AU observer mission team also attended a briefing organised by the IEC for international observers prior to the election during which they were updated on the constitutional and legal framework governing the election of The Gambia and the level of preparedness of IEC as well as the security situation in the country. He added that during that the IEC also presented a demonstration of voting and counting procedures.
“The African Union mission deployed 11 teams to various locations throughout the country,” he said, adding that teams were dispatched to regions of Banjul, Greater Banjul, West Coast Region and North Bank Region, Central River Region and Lower River Region.
The mission then confirmed that the election has finally indicated that the electoral process was generally peaceful and held in accordance with the constitution and the electoral laws of the Republic of The Gambia.
The AU observer mission also indicated that the whole campaign was conducted peacefully, but that there were report cases of intimidation. The mission further maintained that there no significant acts of violence reported in the run up to the elections. According to the mission chief, the gross imbalance in the financial and material capability of the candidates may have resulted in the lack of adequate visibility of the National Recommendations Party (NRP) and the independent candidates.
The mission also highlighted the need for increased dialogue among political stakeholders, while noting that the participation of the female candidates was also minimal as only five out of 74 candidates contested in the elections.
The mission further observed that the preparedness of the IEC and the professional conduct of election personnel on the election day was also commendable, while maintaining that the counting and tallying of the votes at the polling stations immediately at the close of polls is remarkable and contributed to the transparency of the process.
The mission finally observed that the media coverage on the National Assembly Elections was minimal, while also adding that some personnel deployed by the IEC for election duty for National Assembly Elections were unable to vote because there were deployed outside their constituencies.
Polling stations and balloting materials
On polling stations and balloting materials, the AU observer mission observed that most polling stations were located in public institutions, notably schools, health centres while a few were found in police barracks and market squares.
The mission stated that the polling materials were delivered in good time and generally in sufficient quantities. It maintained that the indelible materials ink which was used in all the polling stations was of good quality, indicating that the availability of polling compartments and the positioning of the polling drums adequately ensured the secrecy of the votes.
“Polling compartments in some polling stations were poorly lit, making it difficult for votes to identify the drums of their candidates; the issuance of voters lists to representatives of candidates made the process inclusive and more transparent,” the mission added.
“Women and youth were well represented as electoral officials in general, the polling staff handled the voting process in an efficient and transparent manner,” the mission further indicated.
The mission also indicated that in comparison with the preferential elections that recorded 82.6% voter turnout, there was a significant drop in the turnout of voter during the National Assembly Elections, which they said recorded less than 50% turnout. It added that there was a good turnout of females in many of the stations visited.
Independent observers, party agents and security personnel
The AU Observer mission team also confirmed that domestic observers, particularly from the Civil Society Organisations Coalitions on Elections were present in majority of the polling stations. “Election experts from the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Organisation of Islamic Conference and NGOs from Chad and Cote d'Ivoire were also presented at some polling stations,” the mission stated.
The mission noted that security personnel were presented in all the polling stations, and their presence was intrusive in some polling stations. It added that the agent of the candidates were present in most polling stations. It stated: “The presence of traditional chiefs and village heads was also observed at some polling stations and in some cases, they interfered with the process; media coverage on the whole was timid.”
Voting and counting
On voting and counting, the mission stated that the process was generally orderly and peaceful, as counting and tallying of the votes was conducted at the polling stations in a transparent manner and that the result were announced and posted at each polling station before the transfer of voting materials to the collation centres. It added that all persons with disabilities, the elderly as well as pregnant and nursing mothers were given preferential treatment and were necessarily assisted to vote, while maintaining that there were no acts of intimidation or coercion during the voting.
The mission also observed that most voters were in possession of voters' card, making the process of identification of voters easy and effective. “IEC made provision for an individual to assist voters identify their allocated polling stations within polling centres; the voting system including the ballot tokens and drums proved to be user-friendly with minimal records of invalid votes.
The AU Observer Mission however, noted some shortcomings in the national assembly electoral process, pointing out that voters' rolls were not posted in the polling stations and that voters' rolls were not updated between the preferential and national assembly election thus, citizens who attained the voting age this period were not able to vote. “There were no clear directions to the location of polling centres by the IEC,” the mission disclosed.
The AU Observer Mission made some recommendations after observing the whole electoral process in The Gambia, saying that the IEC should undertake to post the lists of voters in their respective polling stations before the polling day and also ensure that polling stations within polling centres are adequately identified.
“The IEC should make provision for clear direction to the polling centres and also ensure that polling stations within polling centres are clearly marked for easy identification,” the mission recommended. It further recommended that the IEC should develop establish mechanisms for dialogue among electoral stakeholders and make provision to recruit and deploy election personnel in their respective constituencies during the National Assembly elections to ensure that they are able to exercise their franchise to elect their representatives. The mission further recommended that there is need for sensitisation progremmes for security agencies on their role in the electoral process and also to collaborate with stakeholders to enlighten the people about the importance of the national assembly as an arm of government.
The mission also called for initiating reforms in the political and electoral system that would encourage and promote the participation of women in the governance in The Gambia. It also recommended that the government and stakeholders consider revisiting the law on the public financing of political parties and the use of the public resources in order to ensure a level of playing field for all political competitors, while indicating that reforms also would be needed to address the continuous registration of voters and update of voters' roll.
In conclusion, the AU Observer Mission consequently wishes to declare that the 29 March 2012, National Assembly Election in the Republic of The Gambia were conducted in a manner that are a true reflection of the will of the sovereign people of The Gambia.
Author: by Bekai Njie & Musa Ndow