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DRL Blog

On May 20, 2023, The Gambia held mayoral and chairperson elections – marking the second subnational poll since the country’s 2016 political transition. Credible elections are critical to democratic governance – fostering opportunities for voters to select representatives who recognize and reflect their priorities, hold governments accountable, and strengthen the legitimacy of political processes in a country.

A leader in democracy and human rights programming, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) in the Department of State centers its approach to democracy on the idea that democratic authority lies within and is drawn from citizens. DRL programs therefore seek to expand citizen access to full civic and political participation, engagement, and influence. This includes efforts to strengthen civil society’s ability to support accountable democratic institutions and build citizen trust. In The Gambia, DRL partners with local organizations to strengthen citizen engagement and participation in democratic processes, including through election observation.

Gambia Participates 2023 Election Data Center in The Gambia. [Photo Credit: Gambia Participates]

For the May 2023 elections, DRL programs enabled the organization Gambia Participates to conduct an election observation mission comprising more than 200 monitors, observing all 53 electoral constituencies. When observing elections, monitors assess many election components – from the accessibility of the polling site to the integrity of individual voters and their ballots. Prior to election day, monitors are trained and equipped to independently observe pre- and election day activities.

Observer findings during recent elections  in The Gambia were generally positive. Observers found that a majority of polling units opened on time and were fully supplied, and that polling staff largely followed all procedures correctly. There was at least one woman polling official in every polling unit observed and 49 percent of security personnel present were women.

The observation mission also confirmed The Gambia’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) stated turnout of 47 percent, a marked improvement from the 2018 local elections where only 29 percent of eligible voters participated. Further, the IEC announced the results within 24 hours of election day, an improvement from previous elections, where citizen observers criticized the slow release of electoral results.

U.S. Ambassador Sharon Cromer (right) visits Gambia Participates Election Data Center during the May 2023 elections in The Gambia. [Photo Credit: Gambia Participates]

However, the mission also reported four critical incidents, including intimidation of citizen observers, disruption of voting by party agents, and allegations of vote buying. Further, 18 percent of polling units observed were not accessible to persons with disabilities. Reporting on challenges such as these during elections is critical for civil society and other stakeholders to increase transparency of the electoral process.

Independent observation and documentation of challenges enables civil society and other actors to develop recommendations. Similar to the last elections, independent observers and civil society organizations in The Gambia will use the data from observation missions to advocate for electoral reforms to strengthen democratic institutions and processes for all in the Gambia.

About the Author: Linsey Armstrong serves as a contractor Programs Communication and Outreach Coordinator in the Office of Global Programs in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) in the U.S. Department of State.

U.S. Department of State

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