'No ECOWAS observers for Gambian polls' (writethru)

Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) - The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will not send election observers to The Gambia for the country's presidential and legislative polls on 24 November, sources at the regional bloc told PANA here Tuesday.

The sources said the decision followed the findings of a fact-finding mission dispatched to the country by ECOWAS Commission President James Victor Gbeho.

According to the findings, the process leading to the polls neither conforms to the standard specified by the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, nor meets internationally-acknowledged best practices in political governance.

The fact-finding mission also found signs of intimidation in the run-up to the polls, and that the electoral processes are skewed against free and fair elections.

Other findings include the violation of campaign time code by President Yahya Jammeh, who has been using his 'meet the people' tour as an avenue for political campaign, thus gaining an unfair advantage over the opposition candidates.

The mission also observed a growing lack of interest as well as apathy by the citizenry toward the polls; an unusual calm due to the people's fear of intimidation; control of state electronic media by the government and the strict censorship of major media as well as a lack of neutrality of state organs, especially the national electoral commission.

The ECOWAS decision, that it is unable to provide assistance to The Gambia in the conduct of the election, as stipulated in Article 12 (1) of the Protocol, has already been conveyed to the Gambian government.

President Jammeh, 46, is widely expected to win the presidential election to extend his 17-year rule, which international rights groups have criticised over alleged human rights abuses and lack of media freedom.

The incumbent goes against Ousainou Darboe of the opposition United Democratic Party and Hamat Bah, who is backed by four parties.

Some 800,000 voters have registered for Thursday's vote, which the Communications Director of the Gambian Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Mr. Joseph Colley, said would be observed by election monitors from the Commonwealth and the African Union (AU).
-0- PANA SEG/MA 22Nov2011

22 november 2011 23:01:39

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