Saturday, January 23, 2016

Editorial: Should eligible Gambians register to vote?

Sidi Sanneh 
The simple answer to the question is, of course, YES.  Every eligible Gambian must register to secure a voting card without which access to the voting booth will be denied.

From afar, it would appear preposterous to even entertain the question, especially when the country in question is The Gambia and the leader currently occupying State House is none other than the notoriously brutal, incompetent and corrupt dictator who prefers to be addressed as His Excellency Alhagie Doctor, Professor Yaya Abdul-Aziz Jamus Junkung Jammeh, Nasurudeen, Balilimansa.

Voter participation is something every free society should and does encourage.  In authoritarian regimes, it is discouraged unless it benefits those in power, and the Gambia is no different.  Every effort will be made by the dictatorship to discourage those voters who would potentially vote for the opposition parties.  It is therefore in the interest of the opposition parties to encourage increase participation of voters, new and first time voters, in the electoral process.

However, the message has been muddled up, inadvertently, I might add, by those opposed to the regime of Yaya Jammeh by citing the recently passed amendments to the country's electoral laws that clear favor the incumbent.  In addition to these odious laws, the D 100 replacement fee required of all previously registered voters who've lost or mutilated their original voter's card - a replacement fee that some see as some form of a poll tax and thus an infringement on the voting rights of citizens.

While sympathetic to this view, I think the refusal to cast one's ballot in the 2016 elections should be predicated on broader and more consequential issues as the recently passed laws egregiously titled "The Electoral Reform Act of 2015."  We still do not understand why the opposition never campaigned against the 50+1 rule that is almost a universally accepted norm and an easily understood concept.

In debating the issue of whether to register or not to register, we must keep two things separate (i)  the inherent right of every Gambian of voting age to have access to the voting booth which can only be obtained by registering to vote and (ii) the right of the individual to exercise OR not to exercise that right.  The two are not inextricably linked.  Therefore, they are mutually exclusive.

If we agree on these premises, then every Gambian regardless of party affiliation, should register and be issued a voter's card.  It is up to the individual voter to decide whether the prevailing conditions are sufficient to warrant his or her participation in the upcoming elections.

We've always said that it would be ill-advised for the opposition to proceed to elections in 2016 without a radical overhaul of the electoral laws.  We see, everyday, signs that the Jammeh regime is determined to win the 2016 vote even before a single vote is cast by manipulating the electoral roll and passing electoral laws that only add to an already rough and hostile terrain for opposition parties.

Nothing extraordinary has taken place to warrant reconsider of our position.  And we don't think those with similar views at home and abroad should either.  That said, we encourage every eligible Gambian to register and be issued with a voter's card so that in the event that the regime of Yaya Jammeh meets the demand of those who want to see a change in the current electoral laws.