I Didn't See Any Sign of Vote-Rigging in The Gambia Election - ECOWAS MP - AFRICAN PARLIAMENTARY NEWS



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Thursday, December 9, 2021

I Didn't See Any Sign of Vote-Rigging in The Gambia Election - ECOWAS MP

By Melvin TejanMansaray, Abuja-Nigeria, Thursday 9th December 2021

A Member of the Sierra Leone Parliament's delegation to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Parliament, Honorable Sharka Musa Sama, who was also part of the ECOWAS Commission’s Election Observation Mission (EOM) to the Gambia presidential election has in an exclusive interview said that he did not observe any violence or vote-rigging.  

According to the provisions of the ECOWAS Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance  (2001), His Excellency Jean Claude Kassie-Brou, President of the ECOWAS Commission deployed an Electoral Observation Mission (EOM) to observe the presidential election as part of the ECOWAS   support to the democratic process in the country of The Gambia with a core team of four experts, twelve long term observers, and sixty-two short term observers.

The Independent Lawmaker, representing Pujehun District, Southern Sierra Leone in the Fifth Assembly, Hon. Sama said he was part of the ECOWAS short-term EOM delegation to The Gambia that observed the just concluded presidential election held on  4th December 2021.

“Upon arrival, we held a meeting with other observers from different countries. We were briefed about the security and political situation in The Gambia. We were also assigned to regions (Banjul, Kanifing, Brikama, Kerevan, Mansakonko, Janjanbureh, and Base) of the country where we were to observe the electoral process. I was assigned to Brikama, one of the biggest townships in the Gambia and it is very close to Banjul, the capital. I was there with two other members of my team. We were placed into teams of three members each and each team had a leader,” Hon. Sama said.

He noted that the ECOWAS Parliament team was comprised of about five MEPs.

Explaining his observations of the presidential election in The Gambia, Hon. Sama said, “ well, I can only report from the polling stations that I covered or  on the polling center where I was assigned, five polling centers.”

“From my observation, the election at these centers was very peaceful. Every voter on the register was allowed to vote. I also saw security officers around and preference was given to persons with disabilities and the elderly, so for me, the process at the centers was very peaceful,” Hon. Sama said while he eschewed commenting about the counting process of the ballots noting that, “ I was not there."

Hon. Sama also insisted that he will not comment on what happened at the other centers,  polling stations, and the headquarters.

“I only witnessed counting in the polling center which I visited. They are still using the marble system. I realized that it was very fast to count. I know and can testify that the counting was transparent and I did not see any sign of vote-rigging in those centers,” Hon. Sama said.

He added that none of his colleague observers also  reported observing vote-rigging or malpractice in the process,  or acts of violence, emphasizing  that, “ when we had the debriefing session on the 5th December 2021, no observer reported  that there was violence or vote rigging.”

Hon. Sama  said: “ In the observation of the ECOWAS Mission, we saw that the election was peaceful, but it is not for me to comment further on whether the elections were credible or not, that is the job of the Head of Observer Mission to  give the final comment.”

On the issue of acceptability of the outcome of the election that saw incumbent President Adama Barrow winning reelection and the disposition of the ECOWAS before, during, and after the elections, Hon. Sama said,   "ECOWAS  did very well."

“ECOWAS was fully represented. We had about five former Presidents that worked along with the ECOWAS Team headed by the former  President of Sierra Leone,   Dr. Ernest BaiKoroma. ECOWAS sent observers to all the regions in the Gambia – rural areas and urban centers. We were fully represented and every team of three had a vehicle,  so it was expensive and thorough. ECOWAS did very well to observe the election and I believe that whatever report that ECOWAS delivered is credible because we were there – we observed and participated in the process throughout. We also had long-term observers who had gone earlier and are still there. The election is a process, not an event – some observers were there during the campaign, during and after elections,” Hon. Sama said.

The issue of a true reflection of countries' situation in ECOWAS EOM  reports surfaced as a topic of discussion in the ongoing Second Ordinary Session, in which some MEPs have opined that sometimes it contrast with the realities on the ground and differs from what obtains.

Hon. Sama said contrasting views are always going to emerge from election observations, noting that, “ when you look at a country’s population, you have politicians and leaders of political parties and the voters who belong to different political parties. Naturally, those whose political parties won will accept the outcome of the election, and those who lose, some of them will have questions to ask, that is natural. “

“But what I am sure of is that ECOWAS will maintain its position and will not change it and that is what is important,” Hon. Sama said,  furthering that he cannot say whether President Adama Barrow was re-elected as a result of the power of incumbency or development delivered.

Hon. Sama refrained from telling why President Barrow won the election by saying, “ my job as an observer was not to say why President Adama Barrow won or why the opposition lost. My job was to observe the process,  to see whether it was fair, transparent, or credible. I can only comment on that. If you want to know why President Barrow won, you have to ask him.”

Asked about his impression and assessment of the Gambian opposition,  Hon. Sama  said his presence in The Gambia was  also not to go and assess the opposition  adding that, “ I was only there  for four days.”

“Four days is not enough to assess The Gambian opposition. What I know is that  President Barrow was declared the winner. That is what I can say,” Hon. Sama said.

Explaining the challenges encountered by the ECOWAS EOM, Hon. Sama said it was difficult working without a Protocol Officer.

“For the ECOWAS Parliamentary delegation,  the Protocol Officer that was attached to the delegation was not able to make it to the Gambia, so we had constraints with Protocol. I am not aware of any reason as to why he could not make it to The Gambia but we had problems in asking questions, knowing places, and coordinating. If we had the Protocol Officer that would have been easier but we were sometimes left in a very embarrassing situation where we had to go searching for information for ourselves,” Hon. Sama recounted.

On what lessons can the ECOWAS Community learn from the outcome of The Gambian election, Hon. Sama said a lot.

“We have to observe the process from start to finish. For me, I don’t think it is enough to just observe the polling.  The polling is just one event in the electoral process. According to what I heard from people, the election was freer than before. The Gambians had the opportunity to come out to campaign and vote and when we have elections like that, it will be peaceful. When people are allowed to express their civic rights,  it will be good. We should provide a level playing field for all political parties and the opposition,  I am told had access to the media which was good and the campaign was also peaceful, so when the campaign is peaceful and the rest of the process is peaceful, then there is always the possibility that the outcome will be acceptable,” Hon. Sama said.

According to the conclusion of the ECOWAS Commission nine-page Preliminary Statement on the presidential election in Banjul, The Gambia dated December 4, 2021, signed by Dr. Ernest BaiKoroma   in Banjul on 6ht December 2021, “ The Mission is impressed with the simple but effective voting system, based on the use of marbles being dropped in each candidate's ballot drum thereby preventing spoilt ballots or invalid votes.”

It however appreciates, the organization, speed, and transparency in the collation, transmission, and collation  of the provisional results by the IEC, but noted that “Despite the controversies, accusations and counteraccusations and the rejection on early Sunday 5th December 2021, of the results announced by three Gambia presidential candidates, ECOWAS  Mission confirms that the electoral process has been calm and peaceful with no major incident  reported.”

The ECOWAS EOM report also highlighted that “The Constitutional and Electoral Review Process should  be revitalized to promote democracy and consolidate democratic governance in the country.”

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