By Bakary Ceesay
The Civil Society Organizations in The Gambia have strongly urged the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to conduct a timely referendum for the draft Constitution before the 2021 general elections.
“The Civil Society calls on the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to honor its mandate by the timely conduct of voter registration leading to the holding of a constitutional referendum by the end of 2020,” the chairman of The Association of Non-Governmental Organization of The Gambia (TANGO), John Njie says on behalf of the CSOs in the country.
He said being fully aware of the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic and time limitation towards the 2021 election, the civil society urges the IEC to share with the people of The Gambia its plan of actions, calendar and challenges thereof relating to the conduct of voter registration and referendum.
“This will allow for proper planning with major stakeholders including the Ministry of Health, resource mobilisation and citizen engagement for the exercises to be rolled out while upholding recommended barrier gestures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
He stated that the aspirations of the people are to hold the 2021 election under the new constitutional framework to usher in a new democratic era for the current and future generations.
In a recommendation to the executive, he submitted that it is incumbent on the current government to take all urgent steps necessary to ensure that the draft Constitution is submitted unaltered to the National Assembly to respect the aspirations of the people.
“The civil society recalls that short term gains must not overshadow the importance of a Constitution that serves the interests of present and future generations.
“The civil society further urges the executive to sponsor the reform of the electoral laws once the new Constitution is passed,” Njie said during a press conference at TANGO office.
He challenges the National Assembly to vote in a transformative draft Constitution that will finally obliterate the vestiges of 22 years of dictatorship and usher in a Third Republic.
“The Civil Society urges the National Assembly to take into consideration, in its deliberations, the extensive public consultations that culminated into the final draft.
“The Civil Society reiterates to the National Assembly the urgency of completing their deliberations and voting on the final draft in time to ensure the 2021 presidential election is held within a new constitutional framework.”
He said as CSOs, they believe that political parties’ position on the final draft Constitution will be a key determinant of whether or not the country will usher in a new constitution in time for the 2021 presidential election.
“We therefore urge all political parties, as primary stakeholders, to prepare their National Assembly members in readiness for their deliberations on the draft in August of this year.”
Njie says Civil Society acknowledges and agrees with the political parties on the importance of respecting the rule of law and holding a credible referendum in time, before the 2021 presidential election.
He equally asks the citizenry to continue to engage and demonstrate commitment to ensuring that the final draft Constitution, which reflects the will of the people, is passed before the 2021 election.
“The future of our country is at stake and the choice is between regression by maintaining the 1997 Constitution or marching forward into a new destiny by birthing a new Constitution.
“The Constitution is the first building block in the creation of The “New Gambia”. Ultimately, The Gambia we have is The Gambia we want and The Gambia we create.”
He also recognizes the important role played by the international community in the restoration of democracy and their continued support in strengthening good governance and sustainable development.
“The Civil Society calls on our international partners to continue their support of the Constitutional Review Process to its logical conclusion to enable the citizenry exercise their choice through a referendum and usher in a Third Republic before the 2021 election.
“We call on our development partners to continue supporting the Government and the civil society to enable the country to achieve this major milestone,” he said.
Njie called on all stakeholders of the constitutional review process to remain committed to introducing a new Constitution, assuring that the civil society pledges to provide the necessary support to help our country turn a new page.