The Gambia’s electoral chief warned political parties against violence ahead of the country’s December polls on Tuesday and promised transparent process.
“A free election depends on freedom of speech, assembly, association and movement without fear or intimidation,” said IEC Chairperson Alieu Njie.
Elections in The Gambia were in 2011 classified as not free and fair by ECOWAS, which cited intimidation, short campaign periods and lack of media access among some of the irregularities. Observers said the polls were not transparent.
Njie replaced Mustapha Carayol as electoral chief in April after opposition protest that Carayol’s chairmanship is unconstitutional. The opposition accused him of being biased and siding with the country’s ruling APRC party.
But new electoral boss Njie said that he will be independent and impartial, put in place proper procedures, equitable electoral legislation and systems, equal opportunities for all parties, which will lead to acceptance of results.
“Election results may be rigged to predetermine who will win or lose, and election may be disrupted, casting doubt on the legitimacy of the process, but I stand here today to pronounce to you that, as far as our concerted efforts are in play, this will never be the case in our dear country,” Njie said.
Nominations are expected to take place in early November between the seventh and the tenth whiles a 14-day campaign period of November 16 to 29 has been announced.
The Gambia now has 53 constituencies, after a demarcation led to the creation of at least seven new districts.
Njie, 83, was former deputy mayor of the industrial city of Kanifing, where he ran for office under the ruling APRC ticket but jailed UDP leader Ousainou Darboe said he will not cast doubts on Mr. Njie’s integrity whom he called “a fine gentleman,” unless his does something that but his uprightness into question.
The Gambia has seen rare protests in April and May, which started with demands for electoral reform. At least two opposition supporters have since died in custody and the entire leadership of the country’s largest opposition party is being held in prison for taking part the protests. The police fired live rounds and teargas towards the protesters and were seen beating and kicking them.
Though Commissioner Njie warned against electoral violence and promised transparent polls, he fell short of addressing the violence used and maltreatment of opposition detainees, whom the UN said are being denied medical care.