By Rohey Jadama
As the National Assembly of The Gambia passed into law the controversial Elections (Amendment) Act 2015 on 7th July, this reporter was out to sound the opinion of the members of the public on the issue.
The new law passed and assented to by the president of the republic has raised the deposit of presidential candidates from a refundable D10,000 (Five thousand dalasi) to a refundable D500,000 (Five hundred thousand dalasi), if the candidate gets fifty percent of the votes cast. This was even a reduction made by the National Assembly members of the initial 1 million dalasi being proposed by the Bill seeking for the amendment.
The same Act also increases the deposit for National Assembly election candidates from D5,000 (five thousand dalasis) to D50,000 (Fifty thousand dalasis), from D2,500 (two thousand five hundred dalasis) to D50,000 (fifty thousand dalasis) for mayoral election candidates from D1,250 (one thousand two hundred and fifty dalasis) to D10,000 (Ten thousand dalasis) for ward councillors.
In addition to this, the Elections (Amendment) Act also requires the payment of a fee of D1 million for the registration of a political party.
Speaking to Foroyaa, Muhammed Jaiteh, a young man in his late twenties who resides in Serrekunda, said he rejects the new law because it makes it very expensive for people to exercise their right to contest in elections. He said the average Gambian cannot afford the cost of participating as a candidate in elections.
“The National Assembly members should be serving the interest of all Gambians and not that of an individual or party, and I am very disappointed when I read on newspapers that the bill has been passed into law after the president assented to it,” he said.
In his view, this law imposes unreasonable restrictions on some Gambians to participate in elections and to form political parties. “How long will it take someone without wealth to form a political party, to raise an amount of 1million dalasis to register his/her party and again pay half a million to contest for elections?” he asked.
“The National Assembly is now doing the work of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), because section 134 of the Elections Act empowers the IEC to fix the fees for registration of political parties in consultation with all the political parties, which was not done,” said Fatoumatta Jawara – Saidy, a 34 year old woman.
Mrs-Jawara-Saidy maintained that the Gambian people voted for the National Assembly members to serve them and as such they should have been passing bills that are in the interest of the Gambian people and not any other interest.
She added that she does not also agree with the requirement for any five elders to attest for one to get a voter’s card. “One should be given a voter’s card at the age of 18 and the person should produce a birth certificate, ID card or Gambian passport to become eligible for a voter’s card. There should be transparency and fairness to all Gambians,” she stressed.
Assan Jobe, a man in his late thirties, said the deposits for the candidates are expensive for the ordinary Gambians who want to serve their people and country. He called on the president and National Assembly to scrap the new law and replace it with a better one.
He also called on the opposition parties to collectively challenge this new law, as they have already started with their twelve point demands for electoral reform.
Isatou Joof, a student, said she supports the Elections (Amendment) Act. She argued that the law is here to help the Gambian people to ensure that it is only responsible people who will be contesting elections.
By Rohey Jadama