EYEAFRICA TV: Banjul, The Gambia: European Union (EU) election observation mission chief to The Gambia, Miroslav Poche said on Thursday that the West African state is in a period of transition, which offers an unprecedented opportunity to promote legal reform and protect human right and fundamental freedoms.
At a press conference at Ocean Bay Hotel Conference centre in Bakau, where he presented the main findings of the mission, with reference to the most pertinent recommendations from the 2017 Election Observation Final Report, Mr Poche said the country has initiated much legal reforms in an inclusive process, saying it is important that these reforms come to fruition in advance of the next election to provide legal certainty for stakeholders.
He said significant strides have been made in interpreting pre-existing legislation in line with international standards for democratic elections. “The mission has encountered widespread consensus among interlocutors that electoral and constitutional reforms are necessary. This is a historic opportunity to renew the social contract between the state and the people of The Gambia,” he said.
The follow-up mission was in the country to assess the progress made in the electoral reform and the status of implementation of EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) recommendations, since the delivery of the final report of the 2017 EU EOM to The Gambia.
“Several of the recommendations require constitutional change. Of high priority amongst this suggested constitutional amendment is that quotas for woman or other affirmative action measures could be introduced to ensure that the absent half of the population of The Gambia will be included. At present, there are only five women among the 58 members of National Assembly.”
The objective of the assignment is to contribute to improving the electoral and democratic framework during the inter-election period and raising awareness and understanding of the EU EOM recommendations and technical issues related to their implementation. In general, the EFM supports the consolidation of democracy, institution building and democratic elections in The Gambia in the context of the implementation of the 2017 EU EOM recommendations.
Mr Poche said it was also recommended that the National Assembly could be elected entirely by the people, without nominated member but said change was also recommended to strengthen the institutional independence of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the GRTS by altering the appointment system.
The Czech politician and economist said other recommendations could be achieved through change to legislation alone, one of which is that inequalities in the representation of voters might be addressed.
The mission chief said constituency boundaries at present provide for vast variation in the number of voters per constituency, ranging from 1,980 to 46,502 and amendment of many aspects of the Elections Act was also recommended, with reform of voter registration of high priority.
“A revised voter resister could be established, providing citizens with timely opportunities to be included. This is of particular significance at present, ahead of a referendum on the new constitution, given that a turnout of fifty per cent of registered voter is required.”
He said the EU is eager and willing to engage in close co-operation with The Gambia with a view to the maintenance and ever-further-deepening of democracy.
The EU Election following-up mission will publish a final report at a later stage offering a detailed analysis of the existing arrangement for elections in The Gambia, as well as of the extent to which previous EU recommendations have been addressed.