The Gambia must address the cost of politics to increase the number of women on the ballot papers in the next elections

The Gambian government and its legislature are yet to take action in relation to the call by international election observers in the 2021 presidential elections, to legislate on campaign financing.

The lack of transparency and accountability in election campaign finance continues to be an issue in Gambian politics and calls to regulate continue to fall on deaf ears. There are concerns about private money funding political parties and election campaigns which is providing cover for “dark money” to enter the country’s politics with disastrous repercussions.

The cost of politics in The Gambia has been increasing steadily over the past electoral cycles creating a barrier for women, youth, and other economically marginalised Gambians to participate in the electoral processes as candidates.

In The Gambia, women represent more than half of the population (50.5%) and comprise 57% of all voters. However, according to the African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM) report of 2021, whereas women have a demographic advantage in The Gambia, this does not translate to their nomination in leadership positions.

During the recent elections (2021), the political parties and candidates spent massively on media and online campaigns. The campaign costs were very high, with the ruling National People’s Party (NPP) spending far more on political publicity than any other campaign on radio and online.

Observer and media reports indicate that the NPP accounted for 60 percent of the total spending on Facebook campaign advertising. On the three monitored commercial TV stations Eye Africa TV, Paradise TV, and QTV, 83 percent of supposed paid airtime was devoted to the NPP.

Political party and campaign financing remain largely unregulated. There is no public funding for political parties and foreign and corporate donations are prohibited by law. However, contributions from citizens (including those abroad) are allowed.

No ceilings apply to contributions or spending and there are no disclosure requirements, including on the origin of funding, creating an uneven playing field. There is no oversight authority nor monitoring or enforcement mechanisms in place. Candidates are required to declare their assets upon nomination, but there is no obligation of publication.

Pan-African political finance watchdog, Alliance for Finance Monitoring (ACFIM) argues that the lack of campaign finance regulation added to an unlevel playing field in The Gambia, undermines the principle of political competition, gives the incumbent party and candidates an undue advantage, and turbocharges democratic decline.

ACFIM is calling upon the lawmakers in The Gambia to prioritise the amendment of the existing electoral laws to include provisions that regulate campaign financing, borrowing a leaf from Nigeria’s new electoral laws that have progressive campaign finance provisions.

“Unregulated money in politics promotes corruption and by extension autocracy at the expense of democracy. Democratic renewal in Africa where the minds of politicians and the electoral are monetised, calls for strong political finance laws and regulations.

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