Jammeh’s party contests Gambia vote despite pressure to ‘go’
A party petition asking the Supreme Court to annul results from the December 1 election was filed as Jammeh held talks with African leaders who had flown in earlier to persuade him to leave after 22 years in office.
The petition seen by AFP said the country’s independent electoral commission (IEC) had violated the law and added that opposition leader Adama Barrow was “not duly elected or returned as president and that the said election was void”.
The ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) said it was not present when the IEC issued a recount on December 5, claimed there were irregularities in the process and alleged voter intimidation.
The legal challenge came as four African leaders pressed Jammeh to accept the will of the people, later saying the longtime ruler had been “receptive” to their pleas.
After flying into Gambia in the morning on a mediation mission, Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, Liberian leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Sierra Leone’s Ernest Bai Koroma and Ghana’s outgoing President John Mahama held an hour of talks with Jammeh.
– ‘Jammeh was receptive’ –
When asked whether he had been receptive to the delegation, Buhari told journalists “very much so”.
If Jammeh and the delegation do not reach an agreement, west African states would “contemplate more draconian decisions”, a top official with the regional ECOWAS bloc headed by Sirleaf told French radio station RFI late on Monday.
Jammeh had surprised observers by initially conceding defeat in the poll but then reversed his stand, triggering an avalanche of international condemnation and a multitude of calls for him to cede power peacefully.
Earlier on Tuesday, police locked down the offices of the electoral commission, raising fresh fears Jammeh might not leave office without a fight.
Sirleaf had said on arrival that she hoped “that the will of the people will prevail” and opposition coalition members were confident of a breakthrough.
“Remember President Buhari is from the military. Jammeh is from the military. I think that will make a difference,” said Hamat Bah, a senior coalition official.
– Army loyalty –
However the electoral commission chairman, Alieu Momar Njie, told AFP that when he went to work “personnel of the Police Intervention Unit (riot police) did not allow me to enter the headquarters”.
No reason was given, he added. The premises remained locked down and surrounded by police in the early afternoon.
A readjustment of the votes counted in the election was made by the IEC on Monday last week, reducing the number of ballots for all three candidates but ultimately confirming Barrow’s victory.
Up until now the president of the tiny country of fewer than two million people may have exasperated his regional peers but has never threatened peace in the sub-region, a situation that has dramatically shifted since Jammeh’s move to void the election.
Meanwhile, Gambian army chief Ousman Badjie seemed to reverse a previous declaration of support for Barrow and arrived at delegation preparation talks wearing a badge that featured Jammeh’s face on his uniform.
Badjie said he supported the “commander in chief, President Yahya Jammeh” in brief comments to journalists.
– ‘Very dangerous moment’ –
This followed comments by the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, warning that The Gambia faced “a very dangerous moment” if the military continued to side with the president.
Jammeh’s party left it late to file a complaint contesting the election with the Supreme Court, as Tuesday was believed to be the last day constitutionally possible to do so.
The legal body however has lain dormant since May 2015 as Jammeh himself sacked many of its judges.
A group of the country’s most influential lawyers has said there is “no legitimate legal mechanism available in The Gambia to hear and determine the election petition”, as Jammeh would have to stuff the court with his own appointees.
President-elect Barrow has told AFP he wants Jammeh to step down “now”, though the longtime leader has the legal right to stay in office until mid-January.
The African Union has also promised to dispatch its own delegation as soon as possible to aid the transfer of power, while a statement released on Monday said it rejected “any attempt to circumvent or reverse the outcome of the presidential election”.