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. 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
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.