Preliminary EU Statement on the December 2021 Presidential Election

The 4 December 2021 presidential election took place in a competitive and vibrant campaign environment, with all candidates meeting with voters throughout the country to convey their messages.

Preliminary EU Statement on the December 2021 Presidential Election

Video Transcript:

The 4 December 2021 presidential election
took place in a competitive and vibrant campaign

environment, with all candidates meeting with
voters throughout the country to convey their

messages. It promoted the democratic tendencies
within Gambian society and a growing transitional

perspective. This tendency, however, was disconnected
from the structural deficiencies and lack

of fundamental reform. The monetisation of
the campaign and the advantage of incumbency

also led to an unlevel playing field between
contestants. Polling and counting were well

administered during a peaceful election day.
The extensive participation of citizen observers,

including fact checking initiatives, helped
voters navigate the process and contributed

to its transparency.
The legal framework provides a minimal basis

for conducting democratic elections, although
there are critical gaps, restrictions, and

legal uncertainties that require significant
reform. As no comprehensive constitutional

or electoral reform has taken place, previous
EU EOM recommendations in key areas, including

restrictions on the right to vote and stand,
challenges to candidate nomination, and campaign

finance rules, remain unaddressed.
The IEC has been held in high esteem by stakeholders

since the 2016 presidential election. This
public standing was, however, diminished after

court findings that the IEC had acted unlawfully.
The duties of the IEC are very broad, but

the capacity of the institution is modest.
There have also been concerns raised by various

interlocutors about a lack of transparency
on aspects their work, with minimal information

put into the public domain.
The IEC announced that just 6 nominations

had been accepted; the other 15 aspirants
had been rejected. There had been a brief

period of public scrutiny during which objections
to candidacies could be made by voters. Interested

parties, however, were granted access for
just five minutes. This exercise was not meaningful,

as voters did not have a real opportunity
to scrutinise the documentation and gather

the information required to make grounded

Throughout the campaign, freedoms were largely
respected, and campaigning was issue-based,

although highly personalised. Social media
was employed widely. Throughout the country,

campaigns met with voters extensively at large
rallies in towns, down to small meetings at

the village level. Women took an active part,
although they were rarely in leadership positions.

Lack of campaign finance regulation added
to an unlevel playing field. This was exemplified

by widespread distribution of goods and gifts,
giving the incumbent an undue advantage.

Despite journalists and citizens being able
to voice their opinions, the media legal framework

severely restricts freedom of expression.
In practice, the allocation of TV licences

to business conglomerates undermined media
freedom and pluralism. The Media Rules on

campaign coverage provide for free airtime
and the right to purchase airtime, but unduly

restrict candidates’ right to free speech.
EU EOM media monitoring results show that

the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS)
provided rather balanced news coverage of

contestants’ campaign, while commercial
TV stations displayed significant bias towards

the incumbent.
Facebook, with some half a million users was

the prime online discussion forum on elections.
WhatsApp was instrumental in mobilising the

electorate, while also accelerating the spread
of false news that distorted the campaign

environment. The Gambia’s top 10 news/infotainment
pages on Facebook upheld a vigorous and pluralistic

debate. However, disinformation confused voters,
while tribal rhetoric shrank the space for

a fact-based debate. National fact-checking
fostered transparency and strengthened electoral

Women have been active, although their role

in the presidential race has been limited.
One woman aspired to nomination but was rejected.

Further affirmative action is needed to address
barriers to political participation for marginalised

Election day was calm and voter turnout high,

with long queues throughout the day. The overall
performance of polling staff was assessed

as good, although limited difficulties were
observed, some of which undermined the secrecy

of the vote. Counting procedures were not
always followed and results forms were not

always publicly posted or provided to candidate
agents. The collation was accessible, and

results were announced progressively by constituency,
which promoted transparency, although disaggregated

polling station results were not published.

GM24 TV.



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