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Gambia: Increased Monetary Deposit Requirements for Election Candidates

(July 21, 2015) On July 7, 2015, The Gambia’s legislature passed a bill amending the country’s Elections Act. (Gambia Passes Bill That Increases Deposit for Candidates, ABC NEWS (July 8, 2015); Elections Act (Decree No. 78, 1996, as last amended by Act No. 7, 2009), 1 LAWS OF THE GAMBIA, Cap. 3:01 (2009).)

Provisions

The Independent Electoral Commission (Amendment) Bill 2015 increases the required deposits that candidates for election must make; candidates for President must pay the equivalent of about US$10,000, while candidates for Parliament and local offices must pay amounts ranging from $50 to $1,000. This is a 100-fold increase over the previous rates for presidential candidates. The amount for Members of Parliament is 20 times higher, and the amount for those seeking election as mayors increased by a factor of 10. (Gambia Passes Bill That Increases Deposit for Candidates, supra; Bakary Ceesay, Electoral Amendments Contradict Election Act-GMC, VOICE (July 10, 2015); Elections Act, art. 43 (1).)

Under the existing Elections Act, the deposits were to be paid in cash (Elections Act, art. 43 (3)) and were only returned to candidates who were not nominated or who withdrew from candidacy; who participated in a non-contested election; or who attained a certain level of success in their elections, set at 40% of the vote for presidential candidates, 20% for parliamentary candidates, and 15% for those running for mayor or a seat on a local council. (Elections Act, art. 44.) It has been reported that the deposits are completely nonrefundable under the amended law. (Ceesay, supra.)

Additional provisions put restrictions on political parties, requiring that all executive members of such parties reside in The Gambia, have offices in all the regions of the country, hold bi-annual congresses, and report to the Independent Electoral Commission annually on their finances. The number of signatures needed to register a political party has been increased from 500 to 10,000 registered voters, in addition to the requirement that a party post a bond of GMD500,000 million (about US$12,330). Furthermore, the Commission will be in charge of issuing permits for political events and of spot counting of results at polling stations. (Id.; Darboe Says He Will Challenge the Election Laws Amendment, GAMBIA AFFAIRS (July 14, 2015).)

Reactions to the Amendments

Mai Ahmad Fatty, of the opposition Moral Congress Party, has criticized the amendments as unconstitutional, citing the clause in the Constitution establishing that citizens “of full age and capacity shall have the right, without unreasonable restrictions – (a) to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (b) to vote and stand for elections … .” (Ceesay, supra; Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia, art. 26 (Aug. 8, 1996, in force from Jan. 16, 1997), World Intellectual Property Organization website.) He stressed that the phrase “without unreasonable restrictions” is inconsistent with the financial and other requirements of the amended law. He added that the amendment “introduces feudalism into national politics – the haves against the haves-not [sic] – creating political dynasties of the rich and the powerful. It puts elected public office up for sale and beyond the reach of the ordinary citizen.” (Ceesay, supra.)

Another opposition spokesman, Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party, also suggested that the new law favors the participation of candidates with substantial funds. He argued that the amendment was designed to benefit the ruling party and said, “[t]he Gambian people want a bill that will make electioneering easy; laws that will expand the democratic space, and laws that put contestants on the same level. That is what the Gambian people want. Not a law that puts a certain contestant over the others.” (Darboe Says He Will Challenge the Election Laws Amendment, supra.)