Gambian leader faces toughest challenge

RIDING HIGH: Supporters of the opposition alliance presidential candidate Adama Barrow attend a campaign rally. Picture: REUTERS
RIDING HIGH: Supporters of the opposition alliance presidential candidate Adama Barrow attend a campaign rally. Picture: REUTERS

Opposition alliance presidential candidate hopeful of poll win

Gambians voted yesterday in the first serious electoral challenge to President Yahya Jammeh, who has said only Allahcan remove him from office and once claimed he would rule the tiny riverside West African nation for a billion years.

Jammeh, who seized power in a 1994 coup, has made headlines by claiming to have a herbal cure for Aids that only works on Thursdays, declaring Gambia an Islamic republic, and threatening to slit the throats of homosexuals.

Rallies for the main opposition challenger, businessman Adama Barrow, have attracted crowds of thousands in a rare show of defiance to a leader rights groups say frequently imprisons and tortures opposition figures.

Barrow has promised to revive Gambia’s economy, one of the region’s most sluggish, end wide spread human rights abuses and to step down after three years as a boost to democracy.

The first of more than 880 000 eligible voters headed to polling stations despite an internet black out imposed overnight.

Jammeh is running for a fifth term in office with his ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction.

He faces previously unknown businessman Barrow, chosen as a flag bearer by a group of political parties who have joined forces for the first time and won unprecedented popular support.

Before heading to vote, Barrow said he was confident of victory.

“It’s very clear, the writing is on the wall that I’m going to win,” he said.

A third candidate, former ruling party MP Mama Kandeh, is standing for the Gambian Democratic Congress.

All three men are 51, born in1965, the year that Gambia won its independence from Britain.

At his final rally on Tuesday, Jammeh said he was looking forward to ramping up development, but warned that protests over the election result would not be tolerated.

Gambia’s unique voting system, which sees citizens vote by dropping a marble into a coloured drum for their candidate, could not be rigged, he added, meaning “there is no reason for anybody to protest”.

Rights group Amnesty International urged the authorities to ensure that the election and post electoral period are held in a climate that is free from violence and which fully respects the right of all people to freely express their views.

The internet and phone lines went down at around 8.15pm on the eve of the vote.

The opposition has relied on messaging applications and SMSes to organise rallies and move around roadblocks that were setup in Banjul during the last week of campaigning.

“We are not happy. Gambians need to know what is going on. Social media is very important for this election,” Barrow said.

If Barrow were to win – a tall order both in terms of votes and the likelihood of Jammeh giving up power – he would probably serve a three-year term at the head of a transition reform government.

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