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President-elect Barrow says ECOWAS-Jammeh talks in gridlock

Jammeh’s party contests Gambia vote despite calls to ‘go’

Banjul, Gambia | AFP |

Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh’s ruling party on Tuesday filed a court challenge to election results that showed he lost to opponent Adama Barrow, just as a quartet of African leaders were pressing him to step down.

The petition to the Supreme Court seen by AFP said the country’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) had violated the law and that opposition leader Barrow was “not duly elected or returned as president”.

The ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) said it was not present when the IEC issued a recount of votes on December 5, claimed there were irregularities in the process, and alleged voter intimidation.

The legal challenge came as Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, Liberian leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Sierra Leone’s Ernest Bai Koroma and Ghana’s outgoing President John Mahama met Jammeh and asked him to accept what Sirleaf called the “prevailing will” of the people, and go.

Buhari later said the longtime ruler had been “receptive” to their pleas.

 

But speaking a couple of hours later, president-elect Barrow said the talks were in gridlock.

“There has not been an agreement so far,” said Barrow, who also met the delegation.

“There is a standoff between the government and us,” the leader of the opposition added, saying he had heard about the court challenge and believed Jammeh “doesn’t have the authority” to annul the result.

Sanctions threat? 

If Jammeh and the delegation do not reach an agreement, West African states would “contemplate more draconian decisions”, a top official with the regional ECOWAS bloc headed by Sirleaf has said.

Jammeh had surprised observers by initially conceding defeat in the poll but then reversed his stand last Friday, triggering an avalanche of international condemnation and a multitude of calls for him to cede power peacefully.

This was triggered in part by a readjustment of the votes counted in the election was made by the IEC on Monday last week, reducing the number of ballots for all three candidates but ultimately confirming Barrow’s victory.

Earlier on Tuesday, police locked down the offices of the electoral commission, raising fresh fears Jammeh might not leave office without a fight.

The electoral commission chairman, Alieu Momar Njie, told AFP that when he went to work riot police prevented him from entering the presences.

No reason was given, he added, and the premises remained locked down and surrounded by police in the early afternoon.

Later Tuesday Njie maintained the results still stood, and questioned Jammeh’s ability to bring a legal challenge.

Jammeh in mid-2015 dismissed a string of Supreme Court judges after criticising the court’s move to commute several death sentences.

“The only recourse when you have any problems with the results of the elections, one has to appeal to the supreme court, and the supreme court has been dormant since May 2015,” Njie said.

A group of the country’s most influential lawyers has said there is “no legitimate legal mechanism available in The Gambia to hear and determine the election petition”, as Jammeh would have to stuff the court with his own appointees.

Army loyalty

Earlier in the day, opposition coalition members had been more confident of a breakthrough.

“Remember President Buhari is from the military. Jammeh is from the military. I think that will make a difference,” said Hamat Bah, a senior coalition official.

Up until now the president of the tiny country of fewer than two million people may have exasperated his regional peers but has never threatened peace in the area.

The situation has dramatically shifted, however, since Jammeh’s move to void the election.

Gambian army chief Ousman Badjie also seemed to reverse a previous declaration of support for Barrow and arrived at delegation preparation talks wearing a badge that featured Jammeh’s face on his uniform.

Badjie said he supported the “commander in chief, President Yahya Jammeh” in brief comments to journalists.

This followed comments by the US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, warning that The Gambia faced “a very dangerous moment” if the military continued to side with the president.

The African Union has also promised to dispatch its own delegation as soon as possible to aid the transfer of power, while a statement released on Monday said it rejected “any attempt to circumvent or reverse the outcome of the presidential election”.

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