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The Hotly Contested Gambian Presidential Race Enters Its Final Stretch

President of the Gambia Yahya Jammeh addresses United Nations General Assembly on 24 September, 2013. UN photo by Erin Siegal. Used under Creative Commons license BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh who has been in power since 1994 has said he believes only God can remove him from office. UN photo by Erin Siegal. Used under Creative Commons license BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Presidential candidates are canvassing on the final days of campaigning for the crucial 1 December election in the Gambia. Incumbent President Yahya Jammeh is facing two challengers: Mama Kandeh of the Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC), and Adama Barrow, an independent candidate backed by a coalition of up to seven political parties.

Jammeh, who is seeking his fifth term, is running on a platform for continued socio-economic development, peace and stability. He promises to expand and improve healthcare, education, including free university education. Jammeh has emphasised the importance of peaceful and orderly campaign and election. He has urged people to go about the election in a peaceful manner.

Opposition candidates on the other hand have accused Jammeh of ruining the economy and having the worst human rights records in Africa. They promise to deliver a fairer and more inclusive government if elected.

Campaigning ends on Tuesday, 29 November, with Wednesday considered a “cooling off” day.

The forthcoming December election promises to be one of the most closely contested election since the 1994 coup that brought Jammeh to power. The European Union has said that Gambian authorities have denied their request to observe the elections, but regional grouping such as the African Union and ECOWAS said they will monitor the election. In last presidential election, ECOWAS refused to send observers arguing that the elections will not be free and fair.

(Update 29 November 2016: In the end, ECOWAS will not observe the elections in The Gambia. According to local sources the chairman of the electoral commission said the regional groups application for observation was not received on time.)

In the run-up to the elections, there have been anti-government political protests, mostly in the Greater Banjul Area. The protests were part of a movement calling for electoral reforms and the resignation of President Jammeh. Protesters were met with live ammunition from security forces.

Ousainou Darboe, leader of the main opposition party, will not be able to take part in the election as he has been convicted for his participation in the protests alongside up to 18 other heavyweights of his party.

Protestors in Banjul in the Gambia. Photo taken from the main opposition party (UDP) Facebook page.

Opposition leaders and their supporters demonstrating in Gambia's capital Banjul. Photo taken from the main opposition party (UDP) Facebook page.

Early this month, Human Rights Watch released a report, “More Fear Than Fair: Gambia’s 2016 Presidential Election,” describing government’s repression of the political opposition in the months the election.

The report shows how President Jammeh has used a crackdown on the opposition, domination of state media, and state resources for campaigning. It states that more than 90 opposition activists have been arrested for participating in peaceful protests, with 30 sentenced to three-year prison terms while two opposition activists have died in custody.

In its 2014 submission to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Gambia, human rights organisation Amnesty International said: “Since Gambia’s first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2010, the human rights situation in the country has deteriorated. The government continues to stifle freedom of expression and commit other human rights violations with impunity.”

Concerns about the integrity of the election aside, the candidates and their supporters have been making a push on social media to win votes. First Lady Zainab Jammeh, who is campaigning alongside her husband, posted the video below on her Facebook page with the following message:

Gambians hail the efforts of His Excellency The President and APRC [Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction] Party candidate with a rapturous welcome after a week long tour of rural Gambia as part of the ongoing 2016 Presidential campaign.

The enthusiastic demonstration of support and renewed determination for President Jammeh’s continued leadership is unrelenting for Gambians have shown it all.

The masses have clearly spoken “Vote President Jammeh for continuous development and Prosperity”.

While Bakary Badjie, a supporter of the opposition coalition, wrote on Facebook:

Because Jammeh didn't wait for Allah to come hold his hand to presidency, Gambians too shouldn't fall for those unfounded fatalist talk “Allah put him there and will remove him when his time is up”.. Go Vote Coalition because this is that time. You the Voters can make it happened cuz Allah works through people..

Several people on the group confirm the coalition's caravan and people welcoming them was unprecedented. Now Gambia translate this into #Votefor #AdamaBarrow#1Demberr

President Jammeh said recently that only God (Allah) can remove him from power because he is the one who put him there. President Jammeh opposes presidential term limits. He believes God decides term limits and if God is willing, he may rule The Gambia for “one billion years.” The Gambia is one of two countries in West Africa without presidential term limits.

The opposition GDC posted this video of their candidate arriving at Sintet village in the West Coast region:

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