Banjul, Gambia: Gambian President Yahya Jammeh said on Tuesday that no protests would be permitted after a two-week electoral campaign, as rallies in favour of opposition leader Adama Barrow reached boiling point in the capital, Banjul.
A day of opposition protests ahead of a presidential election in two days’ time highlighted deep divisions over Jammeh’s 22-year-rule, while the president took the opportunity to say his opponents could not succeed.
Barrow, a businessman, emerged from obscurity to become the flag-bearer of all The Gambia’s opposition parties bar one after mass arrests of supporters from the largest anti-government grouping in April.
“People have shown us tremendous support. With that support we are 100 per cent plus that we are going to win and with a big margin,” he told AFP on the final day of the campaign.
With no official opinion polls, it is difficult to corroborate Barrow’s claim, but diplomatic sources have indicated in recent days that Jammeh faces his most significant challenge since taking power in a 1994 coup.
“If Jammeh wants advice ... if he loses, let him accept the will of the people and accept the value of the Gambian people,” Barrow said.
Rights bodies and media watchdogs including Reporters Without Borders (RSF) accuse Jammeh of cultivating a “pervasive climate of fear” and of crushing dissent against his regime, one cause of the mass exodus of Gambian youths to Europe.
At a rally near the capital Tuesday, people shouted “Step down!” as they waved red cards demanding Jammeh’s removal after 22 years in power.
“He killed dozens of our brothers, he’s a killer,” one man shouted, as supporters hanging out of parked vehicles kept up a chorus of: “Murderer, murderer!”
“This is to show I would sacrifice my blood for the country,” said Mustafa Njie, a former Jammeh supporter turned opposition activist, gesturing at his red bandana.
Following unprecedented rallies nationwide, Barrow has urged President Jammeh to go peacefully if he loses power on Thursday.
Jammeh has won four elections with his ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, following a 2002 constitutional amendment lifting term limits.
At his own final meeting with thousands of green-clad supporters in Banjul, the strongman said there was no question of a different result this time.
“Nothing is going to happen, this is not the first time we have conducted elections,” Jammeh told journalists.
“They will not win,” he added.
The leader added there was “no reason for anybody to protest” as The Gambia’s elections could not be rigged. “In this country we don’t allow demonstrations,” he added. Protests have been permitted only during the two weeks of the electoral campaign.
Barrow said a memorandum signed by all the coalition parties in October had laid out plans for a reform-led administration.
A third candidate, former ruling party deputy Mama Kandeh, is standing for the Gambia Democratic Congress.
Campaigning has until now been overwhelmingly peaceful.
More than 880,000 voters are expected to cast their ballots when this tiny West African nation goes to the polls on Thursday.