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Wither Gambian democracy as Jammeh rescinds on poll defeat concession

Yahya Jammeh is an unpredictable character, and true to his reputation, the Gambian leader last week dropped a bombshell, which left Gambians and fellow Africans dumbfounded. Just over a week after making a shock concession after a convincing defeat by coalition leader Adama Barrow in the country’s presidential polls, Jammeh ordered fresh elections and declared that he will launch a legal challenge to contest his defeat. Many Africans on social media have condemned Jammeh’s about-turn, and the African Union (AU) and Ecowas amongst others have issued cautionary statements, criticizing Jammeh on the turn-about, urging the Gambian leader to respect the will of voters.

Yahya Jammeh has for a long while been known as an unpredictable political figure, and true to his reputation, the Gambian leader last week dropped a bombshell, which left Gambians and fellow Africans dumbfounded.

Just over a week after making a shock concession after a convincing defeat by opposition coalition leader Adama Barrow in the country’s presidential election, Jammeh who has been in office for the past 22 years ordered a fresh election, and declared that he will launch a legal challenge to contest his defeat.

The about-turn has been condemned as an attempt to subvert the will of Gambian citizens, and to cling on to power. Social media has been abuzz since Jammeh made the shocking U-turn and various regional and international bodies have issued statements against President Jammeh’s decision to challenge election results after having initially accepted defeat.

Jammeh, widely viewed as autocratic leader last week congratulated Barrow on his “clear victory”, and pledged to oversee a smooth transition. The concession was widely applauded and hailed as a monumental step, which could bode well for democracy, and inspire other African leaders to respect the wishes of the electorate.

Considering previous allegations of gross human rights abuses, many African expected Jammeh to win by hook and crook, that failing to cling on to power, and his concession was pleasantly, and in some circles cynically welcomed.

The cynicism that many people had has been vindicated with Jammeh changing his position on the poll results. Announcing his turnabout, The Gambian leader said: “after a thorough investigation, I have decided to reject the outcome of the recent election. I lament serious and unacceptable abnormalities which have reportedly transpired during the electoral process”.

This video grab taken from footage shot by AFPTV shows The Gambia's President-elect Adama Barrow looking on following his victory in the polls in Kololi on December 2, 2016. Photo: ANP/AFP/AFPTV. Joe Sinclair
This video grab taken from footage shot by AFPTV shows The Gambia’s President-elect Adama Barrow looking on following his victory in the polls in Kololi on December 2, 2016. Photo: ANP/AFP/AFPTV. Joe Sinclair

Barrow has said that Jammeh has no constitutional right to reject the results and he should “facilitate a smooth transfer of executive power”.

Statements on Jammeh’s poll defeat turn-around:

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council called on President Yahya Jammeh as well as all political actors and their supporters “to fully respect the outcome of the election and to resolve all disputes that may arise from the electoral process through established legal procedures in an expeditious and transparent manner.”

“[The Secretary-General] reiterates his earlier call for a peaceful, timely and orderly transfer of power, in full respect of the will of the Gambian people as expressed in the election,” added the statement.

The AU has called Jammeh’s rejection of  poll results “null and void”.  “The Chairperson of the Commission strongly urges President Yahya Jammeh to facilitate a peaceful and orderly transition and transfer of power,” Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, AU Commission Chair.

ECOWAS Commission statement noted that, “It is fundamental that the verdict of the ballots should be respected, and that the security of the president -elect Adama Barrow, and that of all Gambian citizen be fully ensured”.

“ECOWAS, the AU and the UN stand in solidarity with the people of The Gambia whom they once again commend for the maturity demonstrated throughout the electoral process and commit to continue monitoring developments in The Gambia,” added the statement.

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