The Gambia's 2006 Presidential Election: Change or Continuity?

Article excerpt

Abstract:

On Friday, September 22, 2006, Gambians voted in the third presidential election since soldier-turned-civilian-president Yahya Jammeh came to power in a bloodless 1994 coup d'état. President Jammeh's ruling party defeated two separate, though ideologically and programmatically similar, political/party alliances. Not-withstanding, the 2006 presidential election has not appreciably moved The Gambia any closer to a more democratic political culture. The election resulted instead in the consolidation of authoritarian rule under Jammeh. Clearly, disunity within the opposition eroded both its popularity and credibility and irreversibly changed the dynamics of the election in Jammeh's favor. Jammeh is in a position to use his "mandate" and "victory" to widen political participation, undertake genuine reconciliation, root out corruption, investigate mounting deaths, protect press freedoms, and put the economy on a course to mend itself. But this seems unlikely, given his proclivity for press repression and a lack of commitment to bettering the lives of ordinary Gambians.

Introduction

On Friday, September 22, 2006, Gambians endured intense heat and heavy rains to vote in the third presidential election since soldier-turned-civilianpresident Yahya Jammeh came to power in a 1994 bloodless coup d'état (Ceesay 2006; Loum 2002; Saine 1996; Wiseman & Vidier 1995). President Jammeh's ruling party, the Alliance for Patriotic Re-orientation and Construction (APRC), defeated two separate, though ideologically and programmatically similar, political/party alliances. The first consisted of Ousainou Darboe's United Democratic Party (UDP), Hamat Bah's National Reconciliation Party (NRP), and Henry Gomez's Gambia Peoples Democratic Party (GPDP). Darboe, a third-time presidential contender, headed the UDP/NRP/GPDP ticket, following his, and later Bah's, resignation earlier that year from a five-party alliance, the National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD). The NADD, the second, and now much weakened, alliance, was constituted by the three remaining parties: the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP), whose interim leader is Omar Jallow (known as O. J.), the People's Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) headed by Halifa Sallah (who also doubled as NADD's coordinator), and Lamin Waa Juwara's National Democratic Action Movement (NDAM). Voter turnout was estimated at 59 percent, considerably lower than the 89.71 percent in the 2001 presidential election. The low turnout was due primarily to voter apathy as well as anger over opposition party disarray and the subsequent NADD breakup. Also, the earlier-than-expected "snap" presidential election date - which was moved to September 22 from its long-scheduled and much-anticipated October date, putatively to avoid its being held during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan - had a negative impact on voter turnout.

Election observer groups, which included the Commonwealth, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF), forty domestic NGOs, and a few international governmental and nongovernmental organizations, concluded that the election was conducted in a generally peaceful atmosphere.1 The chairperson of the Commonwealth Observer Group, Salini Ahmed Salini, noted, however, that the timing of the president's "Dialogue with the People Tour" and the open demonstrations of support for a particular party by public officers, especially those in the security services, made for an uneven playing field. These, as well as other abuses of incumbency, he concluded, affected the entire process and its outcome (see www.thecommonwealth.org/ document/155394/). Darboe consequently dismissed the 2006 presidential election results, just as he had done in 1996 and 2001 (Saine 2002), alleging widespread intimidation of the opposition and voters by local chiefs, governors, and security agents (allAfrica. …