In about 72 hours from now, Gambians will go to the polls to elect a president. Presidential candidates in the race to the state house are making their final bid to canvass for more votes that will earn the mandate to lead the Gambia for the next five years. There are two challengers to the incumbent president, bringing the total number of presidential hopefuls to three in what is widely seen as a very different election.
Candidates and Campaign Platforms
The ruling Alliance for Patriotic Re-orientation and Construction (APRC) party is led in the race by Yahya AJJ Jammeh. Mr. Jammeh is seeking his fourth term in office after serving three consecutive 5 year terms preceded by a two year transitional period as leader of a junta. The soldier turned civilian president once said he will rule the Gambia for 40 years. Earlier this year, he vowed not to campaign, saying his development achievements are open secrets for all Gambians. However, in what seems a political turnover, the 46 year old said his sexagenarian mother had insisted that he go and thank the people for electing him in the three previous elections (1996, 2001 and 2006). Thus Yahya AJJ Jammeh began what his aides dub ‘thank you tour’ of the whole country. In most of the rallies Mr. Jammeh addressed, he openly says that he has come to say thank you to the people but will also not fail to mention that voting for him is a responsibility for all Gambians.
The United Democratic Party is led by the soft spoken lawyer Ousainou Darboe. Mr. Darboe will be running against Jammeh for the fourth time even though he had continuously regressed in his second position as leading opposition figure. In 1996 and 2001 Darboe contested as candidate for the UDP only but in 2006, he was joined by Hamat NK Bah, leader of the National Reconciliation Party (NRP) the third largest political party in the country and the second biggest opposition party. This time lawyer Darboe is in alliance with a colleague lawyer Mai Ahmad Fatty leader of the Gambia Moral Congress (GMC), the latest political party in the country. The UPD standard bearer has said that his top priority will be to fix the economy, but how? Darboe has also said that he will provide employment opportunities for the youth.
The United Front is a coalition of four political parties: GDPD led by Henry Gomez, NADD led by Hon. Sedia Jatta, NRP led by Hamat NK Bah and the PDOIS led by Halifa Sallah. Through primaries at a national convention, Hamat NK Bah was elected to front for these parties as an independent candidate. The campaign platform of the de-facto United Front includes building of houses for civil servants, creating job opportunities for youth, women empowerment, respect for human rights and separation of powers and checks and balances. According Mr. Bah a United Front government will be very responsive to the needs of the people. The United Front also frequently accuses Jammeh and his APRC government of economic mismanagement which has led to low living standards and the hiking of prices of basic commodities.
Political mood in the country is tense; campaign is taking place amid mix feelings of hope and despair. All presidential hopefuls sound very optimistic of victory. The electorates on the other hand surrounded by a desperate need for change and high uncertainty as to what the outcome of the election may bring along. Opposition politicians have received mass defection from the ruling APRC and so also claims APRC reports. What is obvious for now is that the race will be a very tight one and much more closely contested than most previous elections.