ECOWAS normally does not monitor parliamentary polls, but wants to see things right after downfall of Gambia’s strongman
The Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, has sent 20 observers to monitor Gambia’s first elections following the fall of its strongman Yahya Jammeh.
Gambians are heading to polls on April 6 to choose their National Assembly members among a record 239 registered candidates campaigning for 48 seats.
Five seats are also appointed by the president, totaling 53 spots in the small nation’s parliament, and with just 886,000 registered voters according to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).
The election presents first tough political challenge to country’s new President Adama Barrow who is seeking majority in the National Assembly to conduct host of legal and constitutional reforms he promised voters during presidential elections.
Barrow leads a coalition of 8 parties who are contesting for dominance in the law-making body against opposition Gambia Democratic Congress and former president’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction party.
ECOWAS has boycotted the two Gambian presidential elections, including the recent one, and Halima Ahmed, institution’s head of political affairs, peace and security, told journalists at a press conference on Tuesday that they didn’t monitor the past elections because the playing field was not level.
“The needs assessment we did in Gambia clearly indicated that there was no need for us to be here,” Halima said defending their boycott decision.
Halima said the regional body does not monitor local government and parliamentary elections but Gambia’s own is an exception because of the nature of its political transition and the duty of ECOWAS to see the country through to the end.
The head of the mission, Dr Afari Gyan, is a former chairperson of Ghana electoral commission.
Gyan has done many elections observation needs assessment for both AU and ECOWAS in Gambia during Jammeh’s time some of which were boycotted.
“ECOWAS has contributed a lot to the peace that Gambia is enjoying today. So it should not come as a surprise that they are so much interested in the elections,” Gyan said.
Ahmed has also revealed to journalists that the regional bloc has upgraded its office in Gambia to focusing on only the affairs of the small nation.
“We now have a permanent ECOWAS resident coordinator in Gambia,” Ahmed said.
The regional economic bloc has deployed soldiers to Gambia in an attempt to topple Yahya Jammeh following his refusal to cede power after major election defeat.