Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has officially kicked off his election campaign for next month’s presidential elections in Gambia. According to the BBC, President Jammeh, who is seeking re-election for a fifth term in office, is facing one of his toughest challenges by having to go up against a united opposition for the first time. Earlier this month, at least eight political parties formed a coalition and picked businessman Adama Barrow of the United Democratic Party (UDP) as a consensus candidate.
Political analysts still expect Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction party to remain in power. The 51-year-old head of state has ruled Gambia since he took power in a July 1994 military coup. He has contested and won four elections since then, each one in a landslide victory. The Gambian constitution provides for a five-year term in office for presidents, but activists and human rights groups have questioned the fairness and transparency of the Gambian election process.
Last week, Momodou Njai, the son of Gambia’s Independent Electoral Commission Chairman, Alieu Momarr Njai, raised eyebrows after he predicted a landslide victory for Jammeh. In an interview with Freedom Radio Gambia, Njai defended an earlier statement where he dismissed any chances of the opposition staging an upset at the polls
“There is nothing new in my prediction of Jammeh’s election victory. I made a similar statement some time ago. I am just merely reinforcing my statement. Jammeh is going to win the elections. The opposition have woefully failed to come together on time. It’s too late for them to make any significant electoral victory.”
Rights groups argue that Jammeh’s government has used strong arm tactics, such as forced disappearances, torture, unfair trials, and arbitrary arrests to keep the opposition in check.
After a round of flawed elections that saw him re-elected as president for a fourth term in office in 2011, Jammeh reportedly told the BBC, “If I have to rule this country for one billion years, I will, if Allah says so.”
Jammeh’s security forces continue to use the threat of incarceration to suppress dissent and preserve his grip on power, leaving the opposition with no real chance of gaining support. Critics say the President’s time in power has been characterized by the mismanagement of state funds, poor economic performance, and the repression of freedom.
Gambians will head to the polls on December 1st and according to figures from the electoral commission, about 886,578 people are expected to vote.