IFES Rapid Response Assessment: Promoting the Integrity of Elections in the Gambia
On April 6, 2017, Gambians went to the polls to elect a new National Assembly, consisting of 58 seats (53 elected and five appointed by the president). Expectations were high for the first legislative elections since the country ousted its long-term authoritarian president, Yahya Jammeh, at the polls in December 2016 presidential elections. The transition of power to President Adama Barrow, following 22-years of authoritarian rule, involved a political impasse after Jammeh refused to step down and Barrow was inaugurated in neighboring Senegal.
Members of the National Assembly are elected for a five-year mandate through the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system in single-member constituencies. A total of 239 candidates competed for the 53 seats. Forty-two of these were independent candidates, and 17 were women.
IFES Senior Global Electoral Adviser Peter Erben, Senior Legal Specialist Katherine Ellena, Research Coordinator Heather Szilagyi, and Legal and Regional West Africa Consultant Manuel Wally, conducted a two-week assessment in the Gambia specifically focused on legal framework reform and election dispute resolution, as well as Election Day processes and procedures – particularly the counting and tabulation processes.
On Election Day, the team observed polling in five polling centers (19 polling stations) in both urban and rural areas in the western part of the country. The team also observed the counting process in four polling stations in Banjul, as well as the tabulation for all three Banjul constituencies in a regional collation center.
Gambians have used a unique voting system for decades: polling officials issue each voter a “token,” which is actually a small, clear marble. Voters enter the polling station and place the marble into a metal ballot drum representing the candidate of their choice. As a protection against fraud, polling officials listen for the small “ping” of a bell that indicates the marble has passed through the opening and into a drum.
Previous elections under the authoritarian regime have been seen as somewhat of a foregone conclusion, and to date there has not been much focus on strengthening the integrity of the process itself. While stakeholders viewed the parliamentary elections to be peaceful and credible, more attention must be paid to integrity mechanisms that can safeguard the process as the Gambia transitions to a period of truly competitive, multiparty elections. The current situation in the Gambia presents a unique window of opportunity to help immunize the country’s electoral and political process from future challenges, and to empower emerging national champions to turn existing good will and momentum – for what citizens are calling “a new Gambia” – into sustainable change.
IFES is now analyzing the findings of the assessment and preparing its comprehensive report, which will be delivered and discussed with key stakeholders in the Gambia in the coming weeks.
To view a photo gallery from the elections and IFES' assessment mission, click here.
IFES Research Coordinator Heather Szilagyi examines a handful of tokens (marbles) that Gambian voters use to cast their votes.
The presiding officer at a polling station shows observers some of the ballot tokens issued to Gambian voters.
Polling officials place marbles on the counting sieve to tally the votes for one candidate.
The IFES assessment team met with Honorable Ndey Yam Secka, of the Gambia Organisation for the Visually Impaired, the day after she was sworn into the National Assembly as one of the President’s five nominees. In her humble, welcoming living room, she discussed her ambitions for the Gambia and the team considered how IFES might play a role in the country’s continued democratic progress.