Magazine article New African

The Gambia: Who's for President? Gambians Go to the Polls Later This Year to Choose a President for the Third Time since the Beginning of the Second Republic in 1996. Although Months Away, the Election Has Generated Unprecedented Interest as It Is Expected to Be the Closest Fought Ever. Sheriff Bojang Reports

Magazine article New African

The Gambia: Who's for President? Gambians Go to the Polls Later This Year to Choose a President for the Third Time since the Beginning of the Second Republic in 1996. Although Months Away, the Election Has Generated Unprecedented Interest as It Is Expected to Be the Closest Fought Ever. Sheriff Bojang Reports

Article excerpt

In July 1994, a group of junior army officers led by Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh dislodged the 30-year rule of Sir Dawda Jawara. Following a constitutional review and referendum, Jammeh transformed his Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) into the Alliance for Patriotic Re-Orientation and Construction (APRC). He resigned from the army and contested the 1996 presidential election. He won with 55.76% of the vote while his closest challenger, lawyer-turned-politician Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party (UDP) polled 35.84%.

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In the subsequent election in October 2001, Jammeh won with 52.96% while Darboe, who contested under the banner of a two-party coalition--UDP and a resurgent overthrown PPP (Jawara's party)--won 32.67%. Many analysts believe that this year's election will be the closest fought. With a high cost of living generated by the hyper-depreciation of the local currency, dalasi, in the last half of 2003, the opposition should have something to throw back at the government. But Jammeh has already brushed this aside, saying his challengers stand no chance of beating him and that he might not even go on a campaign tour. But whenever the Independent Electoral Commission allows the campaign to kick off, Jammeh will surely beat the trail and remind Gambians that it was his government that built hospitals, hundreds of schools, a TV station, a university etc, for the country, all of which his predecessor failed to do in 30 years of government.

Jammeh's opponents accuse him of losing touch with the new political reality in the country and that Gambians are fed up with his "benign dictatorship". But once again, they may learn, to their political mortification, that they have underestimated the astuteness of this former soldier.

Early in the fourth year of the five-year presidential term, the government tabled a constitutional amendment bill before parliament changing the electoral law from absolute to simple majority for choosing a president. The bill was swiftly passed by the APRC-dominated parliament. In that one act, Jammeh played a masterstroke for his re-election. He realised it would be difficult for any party to get an absolute majority--at least 51% of the votes--in the next election. …

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