Gambia's Jammeh sweeps polls to secure fourth term

Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh scored a landslide win in presidential polls on Friday, securing a fourth term at the helm of the tiny state after a contest condemned both by his main challenger and African observers.

The 46-year-old former military officer won 72% of votes cast in mainland Africa’s smallest country, a sliver of land which runs east-west into Senegal, the elections commission announced.

“I hereby declare President Jammeh the winner of the 2011 presidential election,” said electoral commission chief Mustapha Carayol after announcing the final results.

The incumbent’s main challenger Ousainou Darboe (63) won 17% of votes in his fourth shot at the presidency while a third candidate Hamat Bah (51) had 11%. Voter turnout was 83% of 800 000 voters.

A defiant Jammeh, a devout Muslim, had earlier said his win was a foregone conclusion and neither an election nor a coup could remove him from power—only God.

But Darboe promptly rejected the electoral commission’s announcement, saying the results were “fraudulent”.

This is Jammeh’s fourth election win since seizing power of the former British colony in a 1994 military coup aged only 29 and he has increased his majority each time. He won 2006 polls with 67.33% of the votes.

“Do I look like a loser? There is no way that I can lose unless you tell me that Gambians are mad,” Jammeh told journalists after voting on Thursday.

“Gambians are development-oriented people and they know I can deliver.
In 17 years I have delivered more than the British were able to deliver in 400 years.”

Observers from the main west African bloc boycotted the polls, saying Jammeh’s control of the media and intimidation of voters meant the election could not be free, fair and transparent.

The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) reported “an unacceptable level of control of the electronic media by the party in power ... and an opposition and electorate cowed by repression and intimidation”.

The regime of the man who says he can cure Aids is often pilloried for human rights abuses, enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, torture and the muzzling of journalists—many of whom have fled the country fearing for their lives.

Jammeh has woven an aura of mysticism around himself. He dresses in billowing white robes, never lets go of his Koran and brooks no dissent, heaping derision on criticism from the West.

“No Western country can tell me anything about democracy. In this country, we fear only God and I don’t care what anybody says.”

Rights bodies have documented the deaths and disappearances of high-profile journalists in the country. Jammeh said on Thursday journalists are “free to write what you like, but you should be ready to be accountable.

“Somebody said that this country is a hell for journalists, well there are freedoms and there are responsibilities. Being a journalist does not mean license to kill. Character assassination will not be accepted.”

He has also threatened to “cut off the head” of homosexuals and has threatened the lives of human rights defenders.

Despite the criticism, Jammeh has overseen strong economic growth, which is set to reach 5.5% in 2011, and construction of roads, schools and hospitals.

“School, no teachers. Hospitals, no doctors,” laughed a young electrician bitterly after voting closed. “What use is that?”

Poverty is widespread, with 67% of the population living on less than $1.25 a day and regions shown not to vote for Jammeh are isolated, and cut out of development efforts.

This time round Jammeh won in each of the country’s 48 constituencies.

Gambia survives mostly off tourism, luring sun-worshipping Europeans to its sweeping, palm-fringed coastline.

Gambians voted with clear glass marbles which they cast into a coloured drum representing their chosen candidate. Polling officials poured the marbles into wooden counting trays with either 200 or 500 holes to tally results.—AFP

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