What next for Gambian President Jammeh?

Yahya Jammeh has been reelected as president of the West African nation – now, will he try to become king?

yahya jammeh
Asked whether he would consider becoming king, Jammeh responded: ‘I can’t decide what the Gambians want’ [EPA]

The Gambia’s incumbent president, Yahya Jammeh, has won the recent November 24 election with a big majority of the vote. But could this be a build-up to crown him king? District chiefs, who have been regarded as “political tools” by critics, embarked on a campaign earlier this year for Jammeh to be crowned king.

The chiefs, who represent the government at the district level, were criss-crossing the country seeking support at the grassroots level to crown the president “King of The Gambia”. But all came to a halt after widespread condemnation of the act by the opposition.

The question remains: Could it be rejuvenated now that the president has won in every constituency in this year’s election? Now it seems there are greater possibilities that the kingship campaign could be given a new lease on life.

However, for the president to be crowned king, a clause of the Gambian constitution would need to be amended, which would require the consent of the general citizenry in the form of a referendum.

If the president were crowned king, he could dispense with the formality of elections altogether.

Speaking to reporters shortly after casting his vote on the day of the election, Yahya Jammeh said he was here to serve the people. “I don’t decide what the Gambians want,” he stated. This could mean that if Gambians want him to become king, he would be willing to – even though that will end the country’s fledgling democracy, created only half a century ago.

From the opposite end, Halifa Sallah, the secretary general of the People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), whose party backed independent candidate Hamat Bah, said: “I will never live under a monarchy again. I would rather die than to live under a monarchy.”

Jammeh re-elected

Gambians re-elected Yahya Jammeh, the leader of the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), as president on Thursday to serve another five-year term of office.

He won 72 per cent of the total votes cast. His two opponents, lawyer Ousainou Darboe, candidate of the United Democratic Party (UDP), received 17 per cent, and Hamat Bah, an independent candidate who is backed by four parties collectively called “the United Front”, received 11 per cent.

But Darboe, who has failed in his attempt to unseat Jammeh for the fourth time, said Thursday’s results are “bogus” and refused to accept defeat during an address to his supporters at his residence in Pipeline, Kanifing Municipality, shortly after the announcement of the results.

Darboe declined to grant an interview to press corps who gathered at his house, but jointly issued a brief statement together with the backing of the Gambia Moral Congress (GMC), a new party led by private lawyer Mai NK Fatty.     

“The UDP/GMC United Alliance vehemently and unconditionally rejects the results of the just concluded presidential elections as announced by the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission. The results are bogus, fraudulent and constitute a capricious usurpation of the will of the people,” the party said in a preliminary statement.

“The United Alliance urges Gambian citizens not to be hoodwinked by the results of such a conspicuously flawed process and further urges the international community not to validate the results of this preposterous fabrication. The United Alliance shall respond to these unacceptable results with appropriate action.”

At the time of this report, his compatriot, Hamat NK Bah, was having a closed-door meeting with “the United Front” in Churchill’s Town, Serrekunda, at the secretariat of the People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), one of the parties that supported his candidacy.

Meanwhile, president-elect Jammeh is yet to react to his own re-election, but his party supporters are pouring into July 22 Square in the capital, Banjul, where they are holding a celebration overnight. Military trucks could be seen transporting APRC supporters dressed in green, the party’s colour. Others wore white T-shirts bearing Jammeh’s image. 

The streets of Serrekunda, the country’s biggest town, were also filled with jubilant APRC supporters, some of whom walked the roughly 10 km to Banjul.

Not free and fair

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) announced on the eve of the election that it will not honour an invitation from Gambia’s Independent Electoral Comission to monitor the election process, stating that the political environment in the Gambia does not meet the minimum standards for conducting elections. 

ECOWAS said the election process “will not be free and fair” and feared post-election violence, saying the opposition has been cowed and that the whole process was being conducted under a “climate of fear”.  

However, President Jammeh said he will not respond to the statement, saying the person who signed the statement, the ECOWAS president, is not worthy of his response. He said his permanent secretary should respond to that statement.  Meanwhile, the IEC chairman has described the statement as nonsense, saying that “the allegations are all lies”.

Jammeh has won every presidential election in the country since 1996, two years after a military junta he led ousted the former president, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, in a bloodless coup.

Meanwhile, international observers, including the African Union, European Union, and the International Islamic Organisation, are expected to issue statements on the election process on Saturday and Sunday.

Some of them have issued statements since polls closed on Thursday certifying that the voting process was smooth and peaceful, but noted that there were no opposition agents in some of the polling stations they visited.

Lamin Jahateh is a Gambian journalist and the editor and publisher of Gambia News Online.

Follow Lamin Jahateh on Twitter: @LaminJahateh

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.