The hotly contested Gambian presidential race enters its final stretch

The hotly contested Gambian presidential race enters its final stretch

Presidential candidates are canvassing on the final days of campaigning for the crucial 1 December election in the Gambia. Incumbent President Yahya Jammeh is facing two challengers: Mama Kandeh of the Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC), and Adama Barrow, an independent candidate backed by a coalition of up to seven political parties.

Jammeh, who is seeking his fifth term, is running on a platform for continued socio-economic development, peace, and stability. He promises to expand and improve healthcare, education, including free university education. Jammeh has emphasized the importance of peaceful and orderly campaign and election. He has urged people to go about the election in a peaceful manner.

Opposition candidates, on the other hand, have accused Jammeh of ruining the economy and having the worst human rights records in Africa. They promise to deliver a fairer and more inclusive government if elected.

Campaigning ends on Tuesday, 2 November, with Wednesday considered a “cooling-off” day.

The forthcoming December election promises to be one of the most closely contested election since the 1994 coup that brought Jammeh to power. The European Union has said that Gambian authorities have denied their request to observe the elections, but regional grouping such as the African Union and ECOWAS said they will monitor the election. In last presidential election, ECOWAS refused to send observers arguing that the elections will not be free and fair.

In the run-up to the elections, there have been anti-government political protests, mostly in the Greater Banjul Area. The protests were part of a movement calling for electoral reforms and the resignation of President Jammeh. Protesters were met with live ammunition from security forces.

Ousainou Darboe, the leader of the main opposition party, will not be able to take part in the election as he has been convicted for his participation in the protests alongside up to 18 other heavyweights of his party.

Early this month, Human Rights Watch released a report, “More Fear Than Fair: Gambia’s 2016 Presidential Election,” describing government’s repression of the political opposition in the months the election.

The report shows how President Jammeh has used a crackdown on the opposition, domination of state media, and state resources for campaigning. It states that more than 90 opposition activists have been arrested for participating in peaceful protests, with 30 sentenced to three-year prison terms while two opposition activists have died in custody.

In its 2014 submission to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Gambia, human rights organization Amnesty International said: “Since Gambia’s first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2010, the human rights situation in the country has deteriorated. The government continues to stifle freedom of expression and commit other human rights violations with impunity.”

Concerns about the integrity of the election aside, the candidates and their supporters have made a push on social media to win votes. First Lady Zainab Jammeh, who is campaigning alongside her husband, posted the video below on her Facebook page with the following message:

Gambians hail the efforts of His Excellency The President and APRC [Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction] Party candidate with a rapturous welcome after a week long tour of rural Gambia as part of the ongoing 2016 Presidential campaign. The enthusiastic demonstration of support and renewed determination for President Jammeh’s continued leadership is unrelenting for Gambians have shown it all. The masses have clearly spoken “Vote President Jammeh for continuous development and Prosperity”.

Bakary Badjie, a supporter of the opposition coalition, wrote on Facebook: “…because Jammeh didn’t wait for Allah to come hold his hand to the presidency, Gambians too shouldn’t fall for those unfounded fatalist talk. Allah put him there and will remove him when his time is up. Go Vote Coalition because this is that time. You the voters can make it happened because Allah works through people.”

Several people on the group confirm the coalition’s caravan and people welcoming them was unprecedented. Now Gambians have to translate this into votes for Barrow on December 1.

President Jammeh said recently that only God (Allah) can remove him from power because he is the one who put him there. President Jammeh opposes presidential term limits. He believes God decides term limits and if God is willing, he may rule The Gambia for “one billion years.” The Gambia is one of two countries in West Africa without presidential term limits.

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Demba Kandeh is a Gambian journalist with the Global Voices, a non-profit newsroom working to find the most compelling and important stories coming from marginalized and misrepresented communities; speaking out against online censorship and supporting new ways for people to gain access to the internet.

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