The opposition People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism has warned against “the attempt to use parliamentary majority to subvert the letter and spirit of a constitution and strangulate the Independence of an electoral Commission by statute is a canker worm aimed at derailing the democratisation process and the empowerment of the sovereign people in the Gambia in particular and the Continent in general. In many places it is done with the complicity of Commission members.”
The party, whose views are contained in a letter to the Independent Electoral Commission, says the IEC need to engage all stakeholders in any electoral reform. Find below the party’s letter to the IEC:
SUBJECT: WILL THE IEC HAVE THE MORAL AUTHOITY TO PRESIDE OVER AN ELECTORAL SYSTEM WHICH INTENDS TO IMPOSE NON REFUNDABLE DEPOSITS AMOUNTING TO SEVEN MILLION DALASIS TO PARRICIPATE IN PRESIDENTIAL, PARLIAMENTARY AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS?
The Elections (Amendment) Bill 2015 seeks to impose a fee amounting to 1 Million dalasis before sovereign Gambians could register a political party. It aims to impose a non refundable deposit of 1 Million Dalasis if the party aims to put up a Presidential Candidate. There are 48 constituencies. The amendment aims to impose 100,000 dalasis non refundable deposit for a Candidate vying for a National Assembly seat. In addition to the 1 million dalasis paid to register a patty and another 1 million dalasis to put up a presidential candidate, a party would also have to deposit 4.8 Million dalasis to put up 48 Candidates in all constituencies to contest National Assembly seats.
Suffice it to say that the amendment aims to impose a non refundable deposit of 50,000 dalasis for each Mayoral candidate in the two municipalities amounting to 100,000 dalasis.
There are 114 Council seats. The amendment aims to impose a non refundable deposit of 10,000 dalasis for each councillor vying for a Council seat. A party would have to deposit 1,140,000 dalasis to put up candidates in all the 114 wards.
Hence in order to register a party and have it participate in all public elections in the next electoral cycle a party would require the payment of a total sum of Seven Million and forty thousand dalasis non refundable deposit.
It is evident that the personnel cost of the IEC amounted to approximately Six Million dalasis in 2012 and Seven Million dalasis in 2013. Hence what a political party has to pay in order to participate in elections is more than what the IEC pays its entire staff.
Furthermore, the Bill seeks to impose the burden of spending money to tour the country during an impending rainy season to register 10,000 members before being able to register a political party, one year before a Presidential elections.
The attempt to use parliamentary majority to subvert the letter and spirit of a constitution and strangulate the Independence of an electoral Commission by statute is a canker worm aimed at derailing the democratisation process and the empowerment of the sovereign people in the Gambia in particular and the Continent in general. In many places it is done with the complicity of Commission members.
We have examined the strategic plan of the IEC 2015-2019 and have seen in black and white that the Commission did not envisage any changes in the deposits for candidature not to mention the ridiculous proposal to make them non refundable.
It is evident that the Commission has the responsibility to conduct registration of political parties and voters, conduct elections and supervise, monitor and regulate the entire electoral process to ensure that it is free, fair and transparent. It cannot be silent on the Elections (Amendment) Bill which the executive aims to introduce in the National Assembly since its primary aim is to usurp powers already granted to the IEC by statute because of its mandate as an umpire of the electoral process who should work to create a level ground for electoral contest.
The battle against self perpetuating rule which hampers the exercise of choice by a sovereign people and thus bar the emergence of a democratic government determined by the will of the people is what gave rise to the need to create an Independent institution which would exercise direction and control over electoral conduct to ensure that it is free, fair and genuine.
Section 43 Subsection (3) of the Constitution buttresses this view by asserting that “in the exercise of its functions under this constitution or any other law, the commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority.”
To promote its Independence and control over electoral matters the Elections Act has given powers to the Commission to make subsidiary legislation. One of those powers which the executive and the legislature now wish to usurp is the authority to fix deposits for candidature and fees for the registration of political parties.
Subsection 134 Subsection (2) of the Elections Act reads:
“The Commission may make Rules generally for the better carrying out of the provisions of this Act and shall in particular make Rules
(a) prescribing fees for the registration of political parties and any other fees which may be prescribed under this Act;
(b) revising the deposits payable under this Act;
(c) prescribing such procedures not covered under this Act as the Commission considers necessary for the effective conduct of elections;
(d) authorizing individuals, local and international organizations, and members of the press and media to witness registration of voters and the conduct of elections;
(e) regarding the certificate to be used by the Returning officers to allow election officers and police officers to vote at their places of duty;
(f) regarding the forms of the Report on the Closing of Polls and Report on the Counting of Votes;
(g) prescribing the Certificate of Authorisation required under section 86;
(h) prescribing the amount of donations and gifts which a candidate or political party may receive with respect to any election;
(i) prescribing forms for returns of death and the registration of political parties; and
(j) prescribing any matter which may be prescribed under this Act.”
Hence the Commission has the mandatory powers to prescribe fees for the registration of political parties or fix deposits for candidature by simply publishing its rules in the Gazette.
These powers are given to the Commission so they would not be abused by any incumbent. This is the raison d’etre of having an Independent Electoral Commission.
Suffice it to say that fees for the registration of political parties and deposits for candidates are of concern to all stakeholders. For the sake of equity and fairness, the IEC would have to engage in dialogue with all stakeholders before reviewing fees and deposits and should ensure that the amount does not impose unreasonable and unjustifiable financial burden on candidates and parties and restrict the rights of Gambians to form and belong to political parties as enshrined in Section 25 of the constitution and to stand as candidates in genuine elections without unreasonable and unjustifiable restrictions as enshrined in Section 26 of the Constitution.
The IEC in particular, the political parties and youths, women and men who risk political exclusion and marginalisation by an amendment which is to be introduced by an executive which has paraded itself as a vanguard in the empowerment of youths and women should come out with one voice to denounce “money-cracy” and call on the executive to withdraw this Bill which aims to abuse incumbency by abusing parliamentary majority to exercise powers by statute which usurps power already accorded to the Independent Electoral Commission by statute.
The National Assembly members should know that the real lawmakers are the people who approve a Fundamental law at a referendum. They are just exercising the law making powers of the people on their behalf. The world is moving towards a quota system to ensure the equal participation of men, women and the youth in representative institutions. It would be a disservice to introduce money as the determining criterion for the participation of parties and candidates in public elections. History will not look kindly at those who put partisan interest before the interest of a whole people and expect to politically survive through their vote. What is the political future of a National Assembly of a ruling party who spends 100,000 dalasis on a non refundable deposit only to come to an Assembly where one could be removed by the executive order of a single party executive.
In all civilised countries, parliamentarians are held accountable for the laws they pass and the policies they endorse. All must stand vigil and wait for the fate on this Bill. This is the decisive vote which will have far reaching historical significance for our dear motherland. Political parties want equal and even participation. Women want equal and even participation. Youths want equal and even participation. The people want to take charge of their destiny. Recent developments in West Africa have shown that Self perpetuating rule has no future. Only one state, The Gambia, the home of this retrogressive Bill aimed at political exclusion based on money which 99 percent of the Gambian population do not have but contributes to in taxes which amounts to 11 billion for others to manage, has not made commitment to a term limit.
There is no doubt that sooner or later self perpetuating rule will come to an end. The people are no longer willing to mortgage their future for empty promises and monarchical appellations and strivings. The people of Africa in general and Gambia are ready to erase all semblance of self perpetuating rule.
Hence every wise President should prepare for life after the presidency and leave a legacy one would be proud to own. Every public servant must think of life after public service and leave a legacy one would be proud to own.
This is the demand of the 21st century and it is ignored at one’s peril.