Gambia’s main opposition APRC party has lost more than half of its members in key constituencies across the country, especially in the West Coast Region, according to party officials.
The APRC held a meeting in Kanilai, former President Yahya Jammeh’s home village to celebrate his birthday ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and to develop a strategy to win back its members.
According to delegates who attended the Kanilai meeting, the first major gathering for the party since Jammeh’s election defeat, at least 50 percent of their members have left the party, including senior members in major constituencies.
West Coast Region and the Greater Banjul Area is the hardest hit. Aside from the southern region of Foni, the APRC has lost district mobilizers and entire committee members, especially in Kombo South and what was formerly Kombo North.
Some of the APRC’s former parliamentarian, notably, Suku Singhateh have switched allegiance to the UDP. Some local chiefs and village heads have also dumped the party.
Jammeh won the country’s 2011 election with 470,550 votes but in 2016, the opposition united, depleting Jammeh’s support, who only got 208,487.
The party lost its majority seat in the parliament. The UDP won an absolute majority leaving the APRC with only five seats in the House of Representatives.
Jammeh’s human rights abuse and refusal to leave after losing the election has been largely responsible for APRC’s declining support.
Ahead of the 2016 presidential election, a number of opposition members, including United Democratic Party leader Ousainou Darboe, were sentenced to three years in jail for staging pro-democracy protests.
In a public address, Jammeh called members of the opposition “opportunistic people supported by the West,” adding that “I will bow to only Allah and my mother. I will never tolerate opposition to destabilize this country.”
Jammeh’s erratic behavior, including threatening genocide, and marginalizing Christians angered many Gambians, who were wary of tribal and sectarian violence.
The APRC was formed in 1996 after Jammeh ruled the Gambia for two years under a military regime. He took over power after staging a coup in 1994 ousting first post-independence president, Sir Dawda Jawara.