President bans all protests ahead of election
BANJUL, GAMBIA | Gambia’s president of more than two decades is warning that even peaceful protests will not be permitted after Thursday’s election, a move that comes as people are for the first time speaking out more freely against President Yahya Jammeh’s rule.
The 51-year-old Mr. Jammeh, who took control of this small West African country in 1994, raised his hands in the air before thousands of singing and dancing supporters at his final campaign rally late Tuesday.
Mr. Jammeh has said his victory is all but assured with divine intervention, and warned the opposition against protesting.
“Our election system is fraud-proof, rig-proof, you cannot rig our elections,” he said. “There is no reason that anybody should demonstrate.”
Demonstrations will not be allowed “because those are the loopholes that are used to destabilize African governments,” he said.
The Gambian vote comes in a year of strain for many of the continent’s democracies, with longtime presidents clinging to power in countries such as Cameroon, Uganda and Zimbabwe, while elections results have sparked protests and international criticism in countries such as Burundi, Gabon and Zambia.
Mr. Jammeh’s supporters praise his efforts to boost economic development in the tiny country that is dependent on tourism and agriculture.
“He has built the airport, schools, medical facilities and buildings,” said 50-year-old Pinta Manneh, smiling with excitement for the man she was certain would be re-elected for a fifth term. She couldn’t imagine an opposition victory. “He will be angry if he loses,” she said.
Mr. Jammeh came to power in a coup in 1994, and then swept elections in 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2011, after a 2002 constitutional amendment removed presidential term limits.
On Thursday, more than 880,000 registered voters will head to more than 1,400 polling stations around the country. The sliver of a country, surrounded by Senegal and a small Atlantic coastline, has a population of about 1.9 million.
Mr. Jammeh faces off against Adama Barrow, a former businessman and United Democratic Party leader, who emerged as the candidate for an alliance of eight opposition parties. Former ruling party deputy Mama Kandeh is running for the Gambia Democratic Congress, the only opposition party not in the coalition.