Gambian President Yahya Jammeh could see an end to his 22-year rule as Gambians cast their votes during Thursday’s national election.
Adama Barrow, Mr. Jammeh’s main challenger, has surged in popularity after campaigning extensively for the past two weeks – the only time period in which candidates are legally permitted to campaign. Mr. Barrow, a businessman, has earned the support of seven political parties and an independent candidate, who have formed a united coalition that seeks to unseat Mr. Jammeh.
Mama Kandeh, a former member of parliament, is contending on the Gambian Democratic Congress ticket.
The winner of the three-way race will serve a five-year term.
“Power belongs to the people. You cannot stop us and you cannot stop them,” Mr. Barrow said to an AFP reporter. “If [Jammeh] loses, let him concede defeat. And we know he is going to lose.”
Mr. Jammeh, however, is confident he will emerge victorious.
“By the grace of the almighty Allah, there will be the biggest landslide in the history of my elections,” the Gambian president said.
In the weeks leading up to the election, Mr. Jammeh has ramped up efforts to ensure he maintains control of the small West Africa country, living up to his reputation as an oppressor of political freedom.
At 8:15 pm local time on the eve of the election, AFP reported that Internet connection was cut. Starting on Thursday afternoon, Gambians could not send text messages or place international calls, and apps such as WhatsApp and Skype were not working.
“Over the past 22 years, President Jammeh and the Gambian security forces have used enforced disappearances, torture, intimidation, and arbitrary arrests to suppress dissent and preserve Jammeh’s grip on power,” Human Rights Watch said in a report on the elections.
“Ahead of this year’s election, the government has repeated these tactics, with a crackdown on opposition parties, particularly the United Democratic Party (UDP), that has all but extinguished hopes for a free and fair election.”
AFP confirmed that there would be no international observers present to monitor the election, raising concerns that the election will not be fair and free.
Mr. Jammeh rose to power in a 1994 coup and has proceeded to win every election since then. While he boasts that the country has achieved unprecedented development under his reign, 60 percent of the population lives in poverty, and roughly a third live on less than $1.25 USD a day.