Dateline Banjul 6 December 2021 -The African Union election observer mission (AUEOM) preliminary findings.

In its “statement of preliminary findings” the AUEOM noted that “the election took place against the backdrop of double failure at crafting a new constitution and a passing a new electoral law.”

“Based on its pre-election assessment and Election Day findings, the AUEOM concludes that the election was conducted in a peaceful and democratic political environment, and conforms to national and international standards.”

The AUEOM made the following preliminary recommendations for improvement of future electoral processes in The Gambia:

• Efforts to be made to pass the Electoral Bill and continue constitutional reforms
• The Government should enact laws that provide for public funding, and enforce
regulations governing private funding of political parties.
• Political parties are encouraged to take more deliberate steps to adopt affirmative action measures aimed at increasing the participation of women, youth and people living with disabilities (PWDs) in decision-making structures.
• Introduce legal requirements such as mandatory quotas to enhance women
political participation.
• The IEC to establish a legal department to attend to litigations speedily.

According to the AUEOM, “this Preliminary Statement reflects the AUEOM’s assessment of the 2021 Presidential Election up to the close of polling on 4 December 2021 and the immediate post-election period.

“A final and comprehensive report will be released within a month from the official announcement of final election results.”

The presidential election will be followed by the legislative and local government elections on 22 April 2022 and 13 May 2023, respectively.

Electoral system
The electoral system in The Gambia is based on the first-past-the-post or a simple majority system.

In line with Article 63 of the Constitution (1997), a president serves for a 5-year term once elected. However, the AUEOM notes that the current Constitution has no presidential term-limit.

INTRODUCTION
At the invitation of the Government of the Republic of The Gambia and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat, deployed the African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM) to the country’s presidential election that was held on 4 December 2021.

The mission was charged with the responsibility of observing, assessing and reporting on the preparations for the election in line with the relevant AU instruments for democratic elections.

The main objective of the mission was to conduct an impartial, independent, and objective assessment of the 2021 election, in line with the AU and international principles for democratic elections and the national legal framework governing elections in The Gambia.

The AUEOM was led by H.E. Kgalema Petrus Motlanthe, former President of the Republic of South Africa and comprised nine (9) long-term observers (LTOs) and 60 short-term observers (STOs).

The observers were drawn from African Ambassadors accredited to the African Union (AU), Election Management Bodies (EMBs), independent electoral and governance experts, and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) from 30 African countries.

It was supported by the technical team from the African Union Commission and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA).

To achieve its objectives, the AUEOM undertook the following activities: Prior to the deployment of observers, the AU deployed a Pre-Election and Needs Assessment Mission (PAM) from 12 to 17 September 2021 to assess the context within which the 4 December 2021 election will take place.

The assessment mission recommended the deployment of long and short-term observers in The Gambia and provided financial and technical assistance to the IEC.

Based on the assessment report, the AU deployed a long-term mission on 20 October 2021. The LTOs were joined by short term observers on 22 November 2021.

The relevant AU instruments, include (a) the African Union Guidelines for Elections Observation and Monitoring Missions (2002); (b) the OAU/AU Declaration on Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa (2002); African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (1981) and (c) African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (2007), among others.

These Instruments include the AU/OAU Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa (AHG/Decl. 1 (XXXVIII); the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG-2007) which came into force on 15 February 2012; and the African Union Guidelines for Election Observation and Monitoring Missions – adopted in July 2002.

Other relevant national, regional and international standards for election observation, such ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance; and the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and its accompanying Code of Conduct- endorsed by AU in 2005.

Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Comoros, Congo, DRC, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Prior to their deployments, both the long- and short-term observer undertook three days of briefing and orientation1 on the use of technology in election observation and election observation methodology.

They were briefed by Gambian electoral stakeholders on the political and security environment, the legal framework for the election, election dispute resolution mechanisms, state of preparedness of the IEC, role of civil society, women, and youth groups participation in elections.

PRELIMINARY FINDINGS
(a) General Political Context
The Presidential election held on 4 December 20212 is at once The Gambia’s sixth election since the return to democratic rule after the 1994 military coup and the first since the defeat of the former President Yahya Jammeh in 2016.

The election took place against the backdrop of double failure at crafting a new constitution and a passing a new electoral law.

Theelectionalsotookplacewithinthecontextofthecovid-19pandemic.However,it did not affect the timelines and preparations for the election.

According to the AUEOM, “a comprehensive legal and constitutional framework, without ambiguities, is essential to the administration of democratic elections and ensuring that a country upholds its domestic, regional, continental, and international obligations.”

The legal framework for the conduct of elections in The Gambia includes Chapter V of the 1997 Constitution and the Electoral Act (previously Decree 78 of 1996).

The Elections Act 2001, Elections (Amendment) Act, 2015, and Elections (Amendment) Act, 2017 to regulate political parties’ registration and major electoral activities.

The AUEOM notes that the legal framework for the 2021 election is generally in line with international and regional norms and standards for the conduct of democratic elections as it protects fundamental freedoms of association, assembly, and political participation.

The Constitution also recognises and guarantees fundamental human rights and freedoms, including freedom of speech, conscience, assembly, association and movement, and political rights.

It further provides principles for which, how and when elections are conducted, universal adult suffrage, and the establishment of an independent electoral body.

However, some of the gaps in the legal framework include the absence of a constitutional provision for presidential term limits; absence of procedures for announcing final results of a presidential election; and absence of affirmative action to promote women’s and youth’s political participation and inclusion.

The electoral system in The Gambia is based on the first-past-the-post or a simple majority system.

In line with Article 63 of the Constitution (1997), a president serves for a 5-year term once elected.

“However, the AUEOM notes that the current Constitution has no presidential term-limit.”

The home-grown voting system, using drums, tokens, sand and sieves has been in use since 1960.

Although the voting system is simple, effective and efficient, some stakeholders that the AUEOM consulted have proposed replacing it with paper ballots.

The reasons given for the proposals to replace the voting system with paper ballots are projected cost and logistic factors when the number of candidates increases.

The AUEOM noted the proposals under the Elections Bill to change the electoral and voting systems. The AUEOM is of the view that the voting system is a unique invention and effort should be made to maintain and improve it.

Electoral Administration and Preparation
The IEC is established under Section 42 of the 1997 Constitution (as amended), as an independent constitutional body responsible for organising the elections.

The budget of the IEC is provided by the state upon approval by the National Assembly. It may also receive grants, donations, and fees from groups other than political parties. It is also expected to submit an audited statement of its accounts to the National Assembly at the end of each financial year.

The AUEOM noted that IEC does not have a legal department and has to hire private attorneys in situations where cases are filed against it in court. This is reactive and not proactive on matters of law which could be addressed by in-house legal advises.

Voter Registration and Voter’s roll
The registration of voters is provided for under articles 39 and 43 of the Constitution (1997) and section 12 of the Elections Act (2009).

Voter registration requirements are: be a citizen of The Gambia, have attained or will attain the age of 18 years at the time the election; produce an identification document (birth certificate, a Gambian Passport, a national Identity Card, or an attestation certified by a district chief or village Alkalo).

Registration is constituency-based, meaning that a person should register in a constituency where they reside or were born.

The voter registration was initially scheduled for 14 January to 26 February as per the elections calendar; however, logistical challenges relating to the procurement of materials and equipment for registration delayed the process.

The IEC carried out a voter registration drive from 29 May to 11 July 2021, which concluded with 987,824 voters.

After verification and post-matching, the final list of registered voters was reduced to 962,157, representing approximately 96.2% of the projected 1 million eligible voters. Of the total registered voters, 545,318 (57%) are females and 416, 839 (43%) males.

Political Party Registration and Nomination of Candidates
Article 60 of the 1997 Constitution provides for the IEC to register or deregister political parties.

There are currently eighteen registered political parties in The Gambia representing a 100% increase from 2016 where only nine political parties were registered.

The AUEOM notes that only five of the registered parties plus an independent contested this election.

Article 46 of the 1997 Constitution provides that an election for the office of the President should be conducted three months before the expiration of the term of the sitting President. It further provides for the IEC to determine the date for the nomination of candidates and for holding the election.

Nominations for the 2021 election took place from 30 October to 5 November 2021. In line with the 2017 Elections Amendment Act, candidates had to pay a deposit of 10,000 GMD (ten thousand Gambian Dalasis).

The AUEOM notes that this amount is much lower than the 500,000 GMD (five hundred thousand Gambian Dalasis) paid by aspiring candidates in 2016.

The AUEOM noted that all six candidates signed the code of conduct pledging commitment to a peaceful election.
The Mission commends the IEC for initiating the peace pledge for candidates and reinforcing the code of conduct.

Campaigns and campaign finance
The official campaigns started on 7 November and ended on 2 December 2021, at midnight, in compliance with the law.

The AUEOM observed that the campaigns took place in a peaceful environment.

Campaign messages focused on peace and security, infrastructural development, education, health, youth development, vocational training, women empowerment, entrepreneurship support, and economic stability.

The Police were equally proactive in monitoring the observance of approved campaign schedules to ensure no political party violated the schedule.

The Mission observed that The Gambia enjoys an improved, vibrant and diverse media which allows for free expression of opinions, with six active newspapers, over 50 radio stations and eight television stations.

The Mission received concerns about hate speech and misinformation circulating through the media, particularly the social media platforms.

The AUEOM received concerns from various stakeholders regarding private funding
of political parties, which can compromise the playing field.

The Media
The IEC has the mandate to ensure that each candidate has equal access to the
public media, including radio and television.
The AUEOM noted that the Information Bill was signed into law on 25 August 2021.

The Access to Information Act allows members of the public to obtain information from
public institutions and ensure transparency and accountability and an opportunity for
citizens to participate in the governance of the country.

The AUEOM observed that media houses such as Star TV, GRTS, and Paradise TV
covered election-related programs, campaigns, and political adverts.

The GRTS also provided a 25 minutes per day platform to all political parties and candidates to publicise their policies in two languages.

Participation of Women
In The Gambia, women represent more than half of the population (50.5%) and
comprise 57% of all voters. The AUEOM noted that although there is a demographic
advantage for women in The Gambia, this does not translate to their nomination in
leadership positions.

The voting process was peaceful with polling staff and voters showing commitment and a sense of professionalism. Party agents were present in some of polling centers visited while the presence of citizen observers was not consistent.

International observers were present. Party agents and observers were given access to the polling stations without restrictions.

Significant participation of women as polling staff was observed.

There was no consistent compliance with covid-19 prevention measures.

The AUEOM deployed 70 observers in 15 constituencies across the country. They visited a total of 298 polling stations on Election Day to observe the opening, voting, closing and counting procedures in their areas of deployment, with 55% in urban and 45% in rural areas.

Overall, the atmosphere throughout Election Day remained peaceful.

Opening of polling
The AUEOM observed opening procedures at 24 polling stations across 19 Constituencies.

The AUEOM notes that 87.0% of the polling stations visited opened on time, at 08h00.

The polling staff followed the required opening procedures and guidelines.

The AUEOM noted that the security officers were present at polling stations and acted professionally.

The AUEOM observed that there were well-controlled queues outside all the polling stations visited before and during the opening process.

Election materials
The AUEOM noted that materials were delivered in advance in most polling stations visited and were in sufficient quantities.

Of the six presidential candidates, none was a woman. Marie Sock, an independent
presidential aspirant, became the first Gambian woman to file nomination for the
presidency, although her application did not meet the required criteria for nomination.

ELECTION DAY FINDINGS
Polling stations
The AUEOM notes that most polling stations were easily accessible to the voters. The layout of the polling stations promoted the easy flow of voters.

In some polling stations, voters were divided into streams in a manner that protected the secrecy of the ballot and allowed also for easy flow.

Election personnel
The polling staff were generally competent in carrying out their duties and demonstrated a sense of commitment.

The AUEOM commends the IEC and candidates for deploying women and youth as polling officials and party/candidate agents.

Observers and party/candidate agents
The AUEOM noted the presence of other international observer missions at some polling stations visited.

The AUEOM also noted the presence of citizen observers in most stations visited. The participation of citizen observers was crucial to enhance the credibility and transparency of the electoral process.

The AUEOM notes that party and candidate agents were present at most of the polling stations visited and could carry out their mandate without hindrances, and with a high degree of tolerance.

Voting procedures
The AUEOM noted that voting proceeded uninterrupted in most polling stations visited throughout the day. Where there was an interruption, it was for less than 10 minutes.

The reason for the interruption was usually because the bell was not heard prompting verification by the polling staff accompanied by party/candidates agents and the voter.

The secrecy of the vote was guaranteed in all polling stations visited.

The AUEOM noted that priority and assistance were extended to persons with disability, the elderly, pregnant women and nursing mothers as well as other persons with special needs.

Closing of the polls
Most stations observed closing at 17h00. All voters in the queue at closing time were allowed to cast their vote.

The AUEOM also noted that ballot reconciliation was done at the polling station at the end of polling.

Counting of votes
Counting took place at the polling stations where the results were published.

The counting process took place in a peaceful atmosphere at all polling stations visited by the AUEOM.

All the necessary documentation was completed, and results were posted at the polling station after candidate agents were provided with a copy of the results form.

The AUEOM noted the presence of both citizen and international observers during the closing of the election day operations.

CONCLUSION
The AUEOM commends the Government and the people of The Gambia, the IEC, political parties, candidates and their supporters for their peaceful conduct before and during polling.

The AUEOM is hopeful that the peaceful character of the 2021 Presidential election will consolidate this tradition.

The AUEOM further encourages all stakeholders to sustain the prevailing peace in the remaining phase of the electoral process.

Based on its pre-election assessment and Election Day findings, the AUEOM concludes that the election was conducted in a peaceful and democratic political environment and conforms to national and international standards.

RECOMMENDATIONS
The AUEOM offers the following preliminary recommendations for improvement of future electoral processes in The Gambia:

• Efforts to be made to pass the Electoral Bill and continue constitutional reforms
• The Government should enact laws that provide for public funding and enforce
regulations governing private funding of political parties.
• Political parties are encouraged to take more deliberate steps to adopt
affirmative action measures aimed at increasing the participation of women,
youth and People living with disabilities (PWDs) in decision making structures.
• Introduce legal requirements such as mandatory quotas to enhance women
political participation.
• The IEC to establish a legal department to attend to litigations speedily.
58.The AUEOM calls on all stakeholders to remain calm during and after the electoral process. The Mission urges any stakeholder dissatisfied with the electoral process to seek redress through the established legal and institutional mechanisms.

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Mr. Sainey M.K. Marenah is a Prominent Gambian journalist, founding editor The Alkamba Times and formerly head of communications at the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) and Communications and PR Consultant for The Gambia Pilot Program, under Gamworks. Mr. Marenah served as the Social media Strategist and Editor at Gambia Radio and Television Services. He is also the Banjul Correspondent for Voice of America Radio. Sainey is a human rights and developmental journalist who has carved a strong niche particularly in new media environments in the Gambian media industry. Mr. Marenah began his career as a junior reporter with the Point Newspaper in the Gambia in 2008 and rose through the ranks to become Chief correspondent before moving to The Standard Newspaper also in Banjul as Editorial Assistant and head of News. He is a household name in the Gambia’s media industry having covered some of the most important stories in the former and current government. These include the high profile treason cases including the Trial of Former military chiefs in Banjul in 2009 to 2012. Following his arrest and imprisonment by the former regime of President, Yahya Jammeh in 2014, Marenah moved to Dakar Senegal where he continues to practice Journalism freelancing for various local and international Media organization’s including the BBC, Al-Jazeera, VOA, and ZDF TV in Germany among others. He is the co-Founder of the Banjul Based Media Center for Research and Development; an institution specialized in research and development undertakings. As a journalist and Communication Expert, focused on supporting the Gambia's transitional process, Mr Marenah continues to play a pivotal role in shaping a viable media and communications platform that engages necessary tools and action to increase civic participation and awareness of the needs of transitional governance to strengthen the current move towards democratization. Mr. Marenah has traveled extensively as a professional journalist in both Europe, Africa and United States and attended several local and international media trainings.

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