Gambians will be going to the polls on December 4, 2021, to elect a new leader despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is similar to other African countries like Ghana, the Central African Republic and Niger who have also organised elections recently despite fears of disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Of course we know elections usually attract a lot of crowd during voter’s registration, campaign and voting. But as a Commission… we do messages on COVID-19, that is we inform voters on how to protect themselves and others from COVID-19,” The Head of Communications at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Pa Makam Khan told FactSpace in an interview.
COVID-19 protocols at polling stations
According to the election management body, it will work with the Ministry of Health and other stakeholders to ensure strict observance of the COVID-19 protocols during voting.
Some of the protocols include:
- Wearing of face masks
- Cleaning your hands frequently with soap and water
- Using Hand Sanitization
- Social distance of at least 1meter from each other
The Gambia currently has 10 active COVID-19 cases. The latest update by the Ministry of Health shows the country has a total COVID-19 case count of 9,988, which include 9,636 recoveries and 342 deaths, since recording its first COVID-19 case in March 2020.
Free face masks at polling stations?
Meanwhile, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) says it is looking into the possibility of providing face masks for people who show up at polling stations on election day.
Mr. Khan stated that the Commission does not want to stop anyone from voting as they are trying to balance a constitutional requirement (the right to vote) and a health regulation that seeks to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 during the process.
“As part of the polling manual, we have also added a new chapter on COVID-19 so that polling staff can be aware that they have to observe the protocols and also the public will observe protocols when they come to vote. This is the Commission’s position regarding COVID-19 and the elections.” The spokesperson of the IEC emphasised.
Intervention by political parties
A Member of Parliament(MP) and co-chairperson of the Inter-Party Committee – an umbrella body for all political parties, Musa Amul Nyassi, in an interview assured that political parties are doing their part in raising awareness about the virus and are encouraging their supporters to observe safety protocols.
“We are putting up a mechanism for vaccination teams to even cover rallies of political parties.” He said and highlighted the fact that political parties have been urged to organise rallies in open spaces as part of precautions against COVID-19.
However, a number of rallies that have been organised by the contesting parties (here, here, here and here) show not enough is being done to heed to the COVID-19 safety protocols as many supporters are attending these events without face masks or observing social distancing.