Defiant Gambia president lets the clock run

December 21, 2016 8:02 pm
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Gambian President Yahya Jammeh © AFP/File / ISSOUF SANOGO

, Banjul, Gambia, Dec 21 – The Gambia faced prolonged political deadlock Wednesday after strongman Yahya Jammeh, defiant despite his election defeat, said he would await a court ruling likely to be long in coming before ceding power.

Jammeh, who has been in power for 22 years, stunned observers by initially accepting his defeat in the December 1 vote by opposition candidate Adama Barrow, but then flip-flopped a week later, rejecting the results.

His stance has stoked international concerns about the future of the tiny west African country, with the UN joining African leaders in calling for him to step down.

“My rights cannot be violated and intimidated to a point where I succumb to blackmail,” Jammeh said in a lengthy televised address late Tuesday, referring to diplomatic efforts by the west African ECOWAS bloc.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh initially accepted defeat in the December 1 vote by opposition candidate Adama Barrow (pictured) but then flip-flopped a week later © AFP/File / SEYLLOU

“Unless the court decides the case, there will be no inauguration (of Barrow) on the 19 January,” Jammeh added, referring to his petition to the Supreme Court to overturn the election result.

“What we are asking for is not for the IEC (Independent Election Commission) to declare me the winner, I cannot do that,” he said.

“I will not cheat but I will not be cheated. Justice must be done and the only way justice can be done is to reorganise the election so that every Gambian votes. That’s the only way we can resolve the matter peacefully and fairly.”

– Buying time –

Experts say Jammeh has bought time by taking his appeal to the Supreme Court, which has lain dormant since May 2015.

All its judges have been fired under Jammeh’s orders save its chief justice, Nigeria-born Emmanuel Fagbenle. The outgoing president would have to appoint the judges who would sit on the panel and hear his complaint.

President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari (centre) arrives in Banjul on December 13, 2016, for a meeting in a bid to persuade Yahya Jammeh to step down © AFP / Seyllou

Complicating matters, the target of Jammeh’s complaint, the Independent Electoral Commission that he says made errors requiring a fresh election, is represented by Jammeh’s own attorney general.

Even Gambia’s own bar association has denounced the system as “fundamentally tainted”.

– ‘Big powers’ behind ECOWAS –

In a fiery monologue, the 51-year-old Jammeh, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1994, denounced ECOWAS and foreign powers who support it for interference in Gambian affairs.

Leaders of ECOWAS — including Senegal which literally surrounds the landlocked country save its coastal border — said at the weekend they would attend Barrow’s inauguration and “take all necessary actions to enforce the results”, without spelling out what those measures might be.

“ECOWAS is trying to force me out,” Jammeh said in the televised remarks. “It will not happen… And let me see what ECOWAS and those big powers behind them can do.”

Jammeh initially warmly congratulated Barrow after results were declared on December 2.

But a week later he condemned “unacceptable errors” by election authorities and called for a new vote.

“I will not step down, because this is disrespectful of our constitution which says a transition period of 60 days. Even if he had won legally, I have 60 days of transition,” he said Tuesday.

The nation’s government-in-waiting said on Monday that Jammeh had no constitutional mandate to stay in office beyond January.

“Any president who loses constitutional legitimacy becomes a rebel,” said Halifa Sallah, a spokesman for the opposition coalition that spurred Barrow to victory.

But the opposition has also said Jammeh would not face prosecution on leaving office.

Under Jammeh’s long rule, The Gambia has remained crushingly poor but enjoyed relative stability — though rights groups and media watchdogs accuse him of cultivating a climate of fear and crushing dissent.

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