LThe results were not yet official as Adama Barrow’s opponents were already contesting them. In The Gambia, the outgoing president was re-elected as head of the country for five years, during the presidential election on Saturday, December 4. The results of this one-round ballot were given in a trickle, by constituency, from Saturday evening and throughout Sunday. The head of state, who faced five other candidates, was re-elected by 53%, according to official figures from the electoral commission.
Between mobilization and protest
The presidential election was the first since the historic defeat of former autocrat Yahya Jammeh in 2016, who held the country with an iron fist for 22 years. With a participation rate of 89%, this unprecedented ballot largely mobilized civil society. A little less than a million people were registered on the electoral rolls out of the 2.2 million inhabitants of this small West African country landlocked in Senegal. After an open electoral campaign marked by real competition, the verdict was eagerly awaited.
From Sunday afternoon, Ousainou Darboe, historic opponent of Yahya Jammeh and former political mentor of Adama Barrow, held a press conference alongside two other candidates, the independent Essa Faal and Mammah Kandeh, supported by Yahya Jammeh, to challenge the still partial results. They pointed to “potential irregularities” during the vote. “All the means of action are on the table,” Darboe announced. The 73-year-old lawyer and human rights defender was trying to run for president for the fifth time. He came second with 27.7% of the vote.
Opposition cacophony after the results were announced
As supporters of Adama Barrow celebrated late into the night the outgoing president’s victory on the streets of the capital, Banjul, the opposition continued to reject the official score. On Monday, Essa Faal finally retracted and Mammah Kandeh assured that he would not congratulate the president-elect. At the end of the day, a hundred supporters of Ousainou Darboe gathered in front of the latter’s residence to express their dissatisfaction with the re-election of President Barrow. They were dispersed by the police, with tear gas. A dozen people were injured, including journalists. “It was quite tense between the police and the supporters of the Darboe camp”, relates Fatou Jagne Senghor, lawyer and outgoing director of the NGO Article 19. “There were clashes and the excessive use of force by the police were deplored. Tear gas entered the candidate’s house. “
Darboe’s call for calm, but uncertainty looms
Ousainou Darboe asked his supporters to leave and “remain calm and peaceful” while legal proceedings are initiated. “If our lawyers provide us with evidence, we will go to court,” he said. According to the electoral law, candidates have ten days after the election to lodge an appeal, while the Constitution provides for thirty. This legal vagueness makes the procedures “complicated”, admits Fatou Jagne Senghor. “We don’t yet know how it’s going to play out. “
To date, the court has not been seized. “The nerves are strained. The country is suspended on the decision of the Darboe camp to take legal action or not. Will his activists accept the final decision if he does not? Asks the lawyer. In recent days, calls for violence have circulated on WhatsApp messaging channels. Some perpetrators were arrested by the authorities and Ousainou Darboe strongly condemned these acts. “There are those who still think the elections were stolen. The atmosphere is not relaxed, ”says the outgoing director of Article 19.
Observers judge the ballot to comply with international standards …
However, the elections went smoothly, whether during the election campaign or on voting day. Five years after the end of Jammeh’s repressive regime, the consolidation of democracy was one of the challenges of the ballot. The observation mission of the Community of West African States (ECOWAS) – which intervened militarily during Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to leave power in 2016 before forcing him into exile in Equatorial Guinea, where it is still today – acknowledged that the election was held “in accordance with international standards”. European Union observers also praised the “transparency of the voting and counting process” and spoke of “democratic progress”.
… but call for reforms
However, several observers have underlined the persistence of “critical flaws” concerning the Electoral Code, not reformed since 2016. They point in particular to the non-revision of the Constitution and the repressive laws of the Jammeh era, which Adam Barrow had promised to undertake when he was elected in 2016. In September 2020, Parliament voted “against” the new Constitution proposed by the Head of State, which had earned him many criticisms. “The biggest black spot in his mandate,” insists Fatou Jagne Senghor.
It is also one of the sites on which the former real estate agent is the most awaited. On Tuesday, during a press conference, he assured that he would make the revision of the Constitution the “priority” of his second term, which will officially begin in January. He also promised that it would include “a term limit and absolute majority”.
Priority to reconciliation and justice
For Fatou Jagne Senghor, “reconciliation and justice are the priority” for the coming months to ease the current tensions. “If we do not settle the liabilities of our country, it will remain fragile and divided. This is why Adama Barrow is particularly expected on the fate of the report of the truth, reconciliation and reparation commission, which was submitted to him on November 25. The commission, launched on its own initiative and charged with investigating crimes committed under the authority of the autocrat Jammeh, calls for those most responsible to be brought to justice. The names have not yet been made public. The president has six months to publish a white paper in which he will explain how he plans to implement the report’s recommendations.
Jammeh’s victims still await justice
The victims of the Jammeh era are still waiting for justice to be served and this election was all the more important to them. Faced with the “opaque” relations maintained between the Head of State and the supporters of the former autocrat, many of them based their hopes on a change of government. Last September, Adama Barrow indeed joined forces with certain supporters of the former dictator with a view to his re-election. According to observers, it is likely that those responsible for the crimes committed under Jammeh are among these. The question of their potential future trial therefore arises. In his post-election press conference, the re-elected president assured that “justice will be done”. It remains to be seen what form it will give it.
Security reform needed
This will also have to go through security sector reform. “There are always people who have been cited as the perpetrators of the atrocities committed under Jammeh who officiate. Some believe that our national forces cannot fully play their role of republican force as long as a sorting has not been carried out, ”explains the lawyer. For the latter, “the next six months will be important, everyone will be attentive to the decisions of the government”. “These are difficult projects that await the president, but we must have the courage to manage them now, as long as it is still hot. Otherwise, Gambians will grow impatient and political maneuvering will take over. “