17 February, 2016
Dear Messrs Bah (NRP), Darboe (UDP), Fatty (GMC) Gomez (GPDP) Jallow (PPP), and Sallah (PDOIS):
The time for unity is now: open letter to Gambian political opposition
We, representatives of civil society organisations in the Diaspora, write to implore you to put aside any differences and stand as a united front, speaking with one voice that echoes our sentiments and collective desire for urgent and far-reaching reforms in The Gambia. We appeal to you to bring pressure to bear on the Gambia government and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), to annul the Electoral Amendment Act 2015. The Act, has no legal basis due to its flagrant contradiction of the nation’s constitution. It violates the regional Principles and Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance binding ECOWAS member states, to which The Gambia is a party.
We, as civil society, reject the Act and are in full support of your 12 demands for electoral and constitutional reforms (focusing on PROTECTION OF FRANCHISE, PROTECTION FROM GERRYMANDERING AND- ENSURING EQUAL, PROTECTION OF THE INDEPENDENCE OF THE INDEPENDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSION, PROTECTION OF THE ABSOLUTE MAJORITY PRINCIPLE AND UNDILUTED CHOICE, REPRESENTATION PROTECTION FROM FRAUDULENT REGISTRATION PRACTICE, PROTECTION FROM THE ABUSE OF INCUMBENCY, and TWO TERM LIMITATION ON TENURE FOR THE PRESIDENCY) presented on June 30, 2015 prior to passage of the Elections Amendment on July 7 of the same year.
Further to this, the Diaspora also organized a meeting for political parties and civil society to deliberate on the upcoming 2016 elections with a particular focus on the Electoral Amendment Act 2015. In that meeting of October 2, 2015, we agreed that: opposition political parties should set minimum acceptable reforms to the electoral law that must be implemented ahead of the 2016 elections; and both the legitimacy of the Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission’s mandate and all bills passed under his expired mandate must be challenged.
It is baffling, however, that opposition parties are themselves campaigning within the framework that they denounced as flawed and illegal. For the record: the electoral laws were flawed as far back as 2001 after the second round balloting was conveniently expunged from the statute books, and a first past the post system introduced; when the abuse of state resources by the APRC party was and remains the order of the day; when security forces practiced and continue to practice intimidation of opposition supporters; and when GRTS, which is a national broadcaster paid for by the public purse, is wholly monopolized by the APRC. The electoral processes were so bad and out of sync with accepted practices, norms and standards that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) refused to observe the elections in November, 2011. The organization stated that it was conducted in an atmosphere of “intimidation, an unacceptable level of control of the electronic media by the party in power, the lack of neutrality of state and parastatal institutions, and an opposition and electorate cowed by repression and intimidation.” The sub-regional bloc further stated then that conditions on the ground will not ensure a level playing field.
Today, the situation is much worse. The illegitimate practices of electioneering in The Gambia as overseen by the IEC has now been legalized by a National Assembly that exists only to serve at the whims of President Jammeh. The Amendment Act, as it stands, contradicts the principles of popular participation and undermines democracy and good governance in the process. Participating in them validates these unsavoury political traits.
We maintain our stance that the Elections Amendment Act 2015 should not be allowed to stand. Political participation of opposition parties has gotten tougher. Aside from the prohibitive costs to vie for public office, this Amendment Act also places restrictions on citizens living outside of the country for more than 18 months, who have not paid taxes/worked in the country for the duration, to run for office. The Diaspora is responsible for injecting more than 90 million US dollars into the Gambian economy, through remittances. This is more than twice the size of foreign direct investment (FDI) flows, and equivalent to net official development assistance (ODA) and official aid to The Gambia. Yet we are not allowed to vote, and are now further restricted from running for office.
The recent announcement by the IEC for parties to comply with the Electoral Amendment Act 2015 and register before March 31st is absurd. We are now waiting for a properly constituted IEC to announce a process they will deploy to ensure that the criteria set for party registration is consistent, transparent, and applicable to all parties, including the APRC. We hope an IEC with a legitimate chairperson will adopt an open vetting policy and process. We will scrutinize the entire exercise closely and launch a challenge if the processes and procedures continue to fall short of acceptable regional standards.
We will also support any person, and / or party, that wishes to challenge the illegal Act in court. Given that the rule of law and the justice sector in The Gambia is heavily compromised and highly politicised, we stand ready and are united in challenging the matter in the ECOWAS community court. And we will not rest until the criminal move by the IEC, President Jammeh and the APRC to extinguish our basic rights is addressed. But we need the political opposition to stand up and speak with one voice to effectively advance the conditions agreed to in the 12-point plan and the Diaspora meeting. Finally, the opposition parties must give a firm ultimatum to those responsible for the political quagmire the country finds itself in.
As we reflect on our 51 years of independence, this month, we must also realize that the nation is at a crossroads, and that it must not return to the same path treaded for the last four election cycles. It must pursue a different path. The Diaspora and other citizens of the country will work with leaders of the political opposition all the way, provided that the right path is chosen to lead us on this journey of putting the country first.
Civil Society Associations Gambia (CSAG)
Coalition for Change – The Gambia (CCG)
Democratic Union of Gambian Activists (DUGA)
Gambia Human Rights Network (GHRN)
Senegambia Human Rights Defense League (SHRDL)
UK Campaign for Human Rights – Gambia (CHRG)
Xc: ECOWAS Committee on Political Affairs, Peace & Security
ECOWAS Early Warning System
ECOWAS Communications Department
African Union: Democracy & Electoral Assistance Unit
U.S. State Department: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
European Union: European External Action Service
U.S. Ambassador to The Gambia
British High Commissioner, The Gambia
The International Institute for Democracy & Electoral Assistance