The Civil Society Organisations CSO on Election-The Gambia, yesterday 13th April 2018 held a press conference at paradise suites hotel to deliver the observations they have conducted so far on the Local Government Election which took place on 12 April 2018.Ms. Anna Johns, a representative from WANEP in her statements, said the CSO coalition on Elections – The Gambia, is spearheaded and coordinated by the West Africa Network for Peace building (WANEP) – The Gambia is a home grown national platform established in 2006 to facilitate civil society participation in elections, democracy and good governance. With the membership of 20 Civil Society Organisations, the CSO coalition on Elections seeks to participate and influence public policy through election conflict monitoring and election observation.Within the framework of the 2016-2018 electoral cycle and for the purpose of the 12 April 2018 Local Government Election, the CSO coalition on Elections- The Gambia operationalized an Election situation Room (ESR) with funding from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in the Gambia to observe, report, analyse and facilitate responses to the peaceful conduct of the election.A team of 30 Long Term Observers (community Conflict Monitors) were deployed nationwide to monitor the pre-election context including the nomination process and campaigns. On polling day, 150 observers were deployed nationwide to observe the opening, voting, closing and counting processes in the 118 wards contested. There were no elections in two wards, kusamai and kachang, because the nominated candidates went unopposed.The CSO coalition on Election – The Gambia’s assessment is based on regional and international principles and standards underpinning the conduct of democratic elections and the Elections Act of The Gambia.In the regard, the CSO coalition on Elections – the Gambia wishes to submit its initial observation report based on reports obtained from our conflict monitors and domestic observers. This report also highlights concerns and recommendations on the election and related matters.SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS -Pre election NominationsThe nomination process was relatively peaceful and stable with no incidents of violence observed. Aspiring candidates were vetted by the IEC as prescribed by Section 42 of the Elections Act to ascertain their eligibility to contest.-CampaignThe campaign period was generally peaceful; however inciting languages were observed including hate speeches and discrimination against woman by political actors. Use of state resources in the form of vehicles was also observed in the campaign. Monitors observed the lack of adequate security provided to campaigns in most cases. Similarly, incidents of clashes between political parties at rallies were observed which also aggravated the political situation.-Polling Day OpeningMajority of the polls observed opened at the designated time of 0800 hours and basic opening procedures were generally complied with in a peaceful atmosphere. Observers reported that most of the polling agents were present at the opening however, the absence of some of these agents was also noticed. Although the entire process was calm there were isolated incidents in some wards that were eventually contained through the intervention of the police and the IEC and other stakeholders.-VotingThe voting process was observed to be generally peaceful and orderly. Generally voting materials were adequately available at polling stations. Physically challenged voters were assisted to caste their ballot. Polling agents have been observed to provide assistance to voters to enable them exercise their franchise. There was adequate and visible information available to enable the voter to conveniently locate his or her voting station and vote most of the time. The absence of the media and election observers in most of the polling stations visited was also observed. The voter turnout was generally low. Observers did not notice the presence of unauthorised persons within polling stations.-ClosingGenerally, polls closed at the designated time of 1700 hours. In many polling stations it was observed that some basic procedures were not fully complied with such as the immediate sealing of ballot drums. Some of the ballot drums were tied with metal wire and not with seals.-CountingWhile basic counting procedures were observed to have been generally followed, observers noticed that some of the presiding officers also failed to fully comply with certain procedures. There were no unauthorised persons inside counting centres. There was enhanced security presence around counting centred. Counting went on peacefully.CSO GENERAL OPINIONIn light of the above observation, the CSO coalition on Elections – The Gambia is of the opinion that voting on 12 April 2018 for the Local Government Elections in the Gambia was free, fair and transparent. There were no significant anomalies or malpractices by either the political parties, candidates or their supporters or the IEC to impugn the credibility and legitimacy of the vote. For that matter, we certify that the results reflect the will of the electorates. We, however, note that elections in the Gambia could still be further improved as highlighted in the following concerns and recommendations.CONCERNS 1. Voter turnout has been observed to be low and in many instances observers noticed more elderly voters than younger voters. 2. Civic education continues to be limited generally hence affecting popular participation in elections. 3. The incidence of hate speech, incitement or violence, gender stereotyping and tribalised narratives were observed in many instances during the campaign. 4. The incidence of the use of public resources has been a perennial problem in elections in the Gambia. 5. Observers have noticed in few instances that presiding officers were not fully complaint with voting procedures. 6. Accessibility to voting centres and Booths for persons with disability remains a challenge 7. While election day went off generally peaceful, incidents of violence were recorded between supporters of the United Democratic Party and Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction in Talinding Kanifing Municipality.RECOMMENDATIONSIn light of the concerns raised, the CSo coalition on Elections – The Gambia offers the following recommendations for the IEC, political parties, The Gambia Government, electorates, the police as well as the general voting population:There is need for the sensitisation of citizens on the Gambia. There must be consistent and continuous civic education to that effect; 2. Voter registration should be a regular and consistent process to ensure all eligible citizens obtain voter’s card and prevent the disenfranchisement of voters; 3. Political leaders and candidates should serve as role models and gatekeepers for the promotion of peaceful, free and fair elections; 4. Civil Society Organisations should increase their participation in the electoral process to promote citizen engagement and ensure that all stakeholders uphold the principles and standards of democracy and good governance; 5. There is need for donors and development partners to engage in a timely and sustainable manner to support the electoral process in the Gambia; 6. There is a need to further strengthen the capacity of IEC’s polling agents to ensure strict adherence to electoral processes; 7. The unfair use of public resources by political actors must be discouraged and discarded; 8. IEC must ensure that it continuously improves the positioning of polling centres and booths in order to ensure easy and direct access by persons with disability; 9. The IEC must ensure its code of campaign ethics to ensure fair play, peaceful campaigns and fair elections; 10. There is need for the inspector General of Police to ensure effective and adequate security during political campaigns to prevent violence.CONCLUSIONThe CSO coalition on Election – The Gambia recognises and appreciates the dedication and professionalism generally exercised by the IEC leadership and polling agents. While there have been some issues of noncompliance at the polling centres due to capacity challenges, the IEC has demonstrated due diligence and responsibility in the conduct of the vote. Similarly, the CSO coalition on elections – The Gambia wishes to commend the Gambian security services on election duties for their professionalism in ensuring the peace and order. The CSO coalition on Elections – The Gambia further wishes to recognise the immense role the Gambian media played in the run-up to the elections. Above all, the CSO coalition on Elections – The Gambia commends the Gambia electorates for exercising their constitutional right to participate in the election, peacefully. Finally, the CSO coalition on Elections – The Gambia hereby urges all Gambians to come out in their numbers to vote in the 12 May Mayoral and chairperson Elections.