Gam­bia’s long­time ruler re­fuses to bow out, de­mands fresh polls

In­ves­ti­ga­tions re­veal string of ‘un­ac­cept­able er­rors’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BAN­JUL: Gam­bia’s leader of some 22 years Yahya Jam­meh an­nounced late Fri­day he would no longer ac­cept de­feat in re­cent elec­tions, plung­ing the West African coun­try into tur­moil with a de­mand for fresh polls. In­ves­ti­ga­tions into the De­cem­ber 1 vote have re­vealed a string of “un­ac­cept­able er­rors” on the part of elec­toral au­thor­i­ties, Jam­meh said in a speech broad­cast on state tele­vi­sion, adding that he would no longer con­cede to op­po­nent Adama Bar­row.

“In the same way that I ac­cepted the re­sults faith­fully be­liev­ing that the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral Com­mis­sion was in­de­pen­dent and hon­est and re­li­able, I hereby re­ject the re­sults in to­tal­ity,” he said. “Let me re­peat: I will not ac­cept the re­sults based on what has hap­pened,” he added, warn­ing Gam­bians not to take to the streets to protest his de­ci­sion. Sol­diers were seen plac­ing sand­bags in strate­gic lo­ca­tions across the cap­i­tal Ban­jul Fri­day, a de­vel­op­ment which trig­gered wide­spread un­ease among the al­ready-spooked pop­u­la­tion, who had been panic-buy­ing food be­fore the vote due to fear of un­rest.

As the mil­i­tary de­ployed onto the streets of the tiny na­tion, the US Em­bassy in Ban­jul urged the army to con­tinue to show “re­spect for the rule of law and the out­come of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.” “The Gam­bian peo­ple have made a clear choice for change and a new start,” the em­bassy added. Lat­est of­fi­cial fig­ures gave Bar­row 43.29 per­cent of the votes in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, while Jam­meh took 39.64 per­cent. The turnout was at 59 per­cent. Op­po­si­tion spokes­woman Isatou Touray crit­i­cised on so­cial me­dia a “vi­o­la­tion of democ­racy” and called for peo­ple to “re­main calm, lu­cid, vig­i­lant and not re­treat.”

On De­cem­ber 2, Jam­meh made a mag­nan­i­mous con­ces­sion speech on tele­vi­sion and promised-to gen­eral surprise-a peace­ful and swift han­dover of power to Pres­i­dent-elect Bar­row, spark­ing cel­e­bra­tions in the coun­try. But on Fri­day he pointed to er­rors which awarded vic­tory to his op­po­nent Adama Bar­row with a slim­mer margin than ini­tially an­nounced, claim­ing that nu­mer­ous vot­ers had not been able to cast their bal­lots. “This is the most du­bi­ous elec­tion we ever had in the his­tory of this coun­try,” he said. “We will go back to the polls be­cause I want to make sure ev­ery Gam­bian votes un­der an elec­toral com­mis­sion that is im­par­tial, in­de­pen­dent, neu­tral and free from for­eign in­flu­ence,” he said.

Shock vic­tory

Neigh­bour­ing Sene­gal im­me­di­ately con­demned the de­vel­op­ment, call­ing for a UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil meet­ing on Gam­bia and urg­ing Jam­meh to ac­cept the “demo­cratic choice, freely ex­pressed by the Gam­bian peo­ple” and con­tinue a peace­ful tran­si­tion of power to Pres­i­dent-elect Bar­row. The US State de­part­ment called the move “rep­re­hen­si­ble and un­ac­cept­able breach of faith with the peo­ple of The Gam­bia and an egre­gious at­tempt to un­der­mine a cred­i­ble elec­tion process and re­main in power il­le­git­i­mately.”

“We call upon Pres­i­dent Jam­meh, who ac­cepted the elec­tion re­sults on De­cem­ber 2, to carry out an or­derly tran­si­tion of power to Pres­i­dent-Elect Bar­row in ac­cor­dance with the Gam­bian con­sti­tu­tion,” spokesman Mark Toner said. Jam­meh’s move up­ends the sit­u­a­tion in Gam­bia, where the pop­u­la­tion had been hop­ing for a peace­ful demo­cratic tran­si­tion af­ter Bar­row’s shock vic­tory this month ended Jam­meh’s more than two decades in power. But pres­sure to pros­e­cute Jam­meh and top fig­ures in his ad­min­is­tra­tion, who have been ac­cused of wide­spread hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions, is one of the key chal­lenges fac­ing the new gov­ern­ment. Many Gam­bians had tired of their leader’s un­pre­dictable be­hav­ior, in­clud­ing the dec­la­ra­tion of an Is­lamic repub­lic in a coun­try with a his­tory of re­li­gious tol­er­ance, and its with­drawal from the Com­mon­wealth and the International Crim­i­nal Court.

The per­cep­tion that Jam­meh sim­ply took over busi­nesses and prop­er­ties for his per­sonal gain also an­gered many, while po­lice ha­rass­ment and im­punity by the se­cu­rity ser­vices, es­pe­cially the Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Agency that re­ported di­rectly to Jam­meh, fed grow­ing re­sent­ment. Bar­row had vowed to set up a South Africa-style truth com­mis­sion but ruled out a po­lit­i­cal “witch hunt” and promised that his pre­de­ces­sor would be able to “live in Gam­bia like any or­di­nary cit­i­zen”. Dozens of op­po­si­tion ac­tivists, in­clud­ing the leader of the United Demo­cratic Party (UDP) had al­ready been freed from prison on bail this week.

— AP

BAN­JUL: In a Thurs­day, Dec 1, 2016 file photo, Gam­bia’s pres­i­dent Yahya Jam­meh shows his inked fin­ger be­fore vot­ing.

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