By Alhagie Jobe
The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General for West Africa and the Sahel has called for an inclusive, credible and peaceful election in the Gambia as the country heads to the polls on December 1st.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas made the call on Thursday at a Press Conference at the UN Library in Banjul as he concludes his two day consultative visit in the context of the ongoing electoral process in the country.
During the visit, the UN diplomat held meetings with UN development partners, NGOs representatives and leaders of political parties.
Earlier this year, in May, Mr Chambas was in Banjul as a member of the ECOWAS-AU-UN Joint High Level Mission. During that mission, they reiterated the international community’s support to the people of The Gambia for the electoral process and encouraged the political parties and all electoral stakeholders to work together and to address all disagreements through peaceful means and dialogue with a view to ensuring the conduct of inclusive, credible and peaceful election.
On his second visit this year, Mr Chambas said he met with the members of the Inter-Party Committee, civil society representatives as well as members of the diplomatic community, including Ambassadors of ECOWAS countries, as well as the Ambassadors of the EU, UK, and US, the charge d’Affairs of Spain and other government partners.
He expressed happiness with the outcome of his various interactions, which provided an opportunity to discuss issues as well as possible concrete steps to contribute to creating the conditions for the successful conduct of a participative, credible and peaceful presidential election. He revealed that he has observed a pre-election atmosphere conducive to the functioning of the political parties than during our previous visit and commended the Gambian people for their strong attachment to democracy manifested by the animated campaigns of the various political parties.
The top UN diplomat used the opportunity to reiterate the call by the UN and other partners on the government to conduct an independent investigation into the death in custody of Ebrima Solo Krummah and Sandeng and release political prisoners.
“I entreat the government to release the thirty protesters involved in the April demonstrations, as well as the fourteen others who are in pre-trial detention following the May demonstration. It is also my expectation that in the post-election period the government would conduct a review of existing legislation pertaining to the exercise of the right to assembly and peaceful demonstration” he urged.
To the security forces, Mr Chambas reminded them of their duty to provide security for the electoral process, including the protection of all candidates and voters. He urged the police and other security services to discharge their noble responsibilities in a diligent, impartial, professional and strictly apolitical manner. “Security services must at all times avoid public display of loyalty to any political party” he said.
Mr Chambas emphasized that healthy and strong civil society organizations have a very important oversight role to play in each society, and especially so, during the electoral period, in particular through voter education and electoral observation. He called on the Gambian Civil Society Organisations, religious and traditional leaders, women and youth organizations, as well as all stakeholders to stay actively involved and to contribute to safeguarding the principles of an open, transparent and peaceful electoral process.
On behalf of the UN, he appealed for the holding of a transparent presidential election, and stressed the importance of a level playing field as a key pre-condition. He reminded the government of its obligations stemming from the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance as well as the AU African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
The former ECOWAS diplomat stressed the primordial role of a strong, independent and professional electoral commission and welcomed the IEC chairman’s commitment to ‘uphold electoral integrity’ and the principles of ‘electoral democracy, ethical conduct, accuracy and transparency’.
“Political parties and the Presidential candidates have a responsibility to defend not only the interest of their own party and supporters, but also to safeguard the unity of the whole nation. In this regard, I urge all political parties to make use of the existing mechanism, like the Inter-Party Committee, to engage in meaningful dialogue as a means to resolve dispute peacefully and in the spirit of cooperation. It is regrettable that the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, defining best practices and guidelines for a peaceful and fair campaign period scheduled for 8th November was called off. I therefore call for a rescheduling of the signing ceremony without further delay” he urged.
While he renewed the commitment of the United Nations to accompany the people of The Gambia throughout the elections of 2016 and beyond, the UN Special Representative also called on all Gambians to commit individually and collectively, to working towards a successful 2016 presidential elections.