Thursday 12 December 2019

Gambian political crisis deepens as court delays ruling on election result

President Yahya Jammeh has refused to step down (AP/Jerome Delay)
President Yahya Jammeh has refused to step down (AP/Jerome Delay)

Gambia's political crisis has spun into deeper uncertainty as a court delayed the ruling party's challenge to presidential election results until Monday, three days before the declared winner expects to be inaugurated.

President Yahya Jammeh initially conceded his loss in the December 1 election, then changed his mind. His party now wants the results thrown out because of alleged irregularities.

While thousands of members of Mr Jammeh's party descended on the court on Tuesday, chanting, singing and dancing in anticipation of a ruling, the case was postponed.

The court said neither president-elect Adama Barrow nor the Independent Electoral Commission had been served with the ruling party's petition, and it gave the party until Monday to do so.

Another potential stumbling block which could delay the case further is that the court does not have enough judges to hear it - it has been dormant for over a year and has only one sitting judge.

Gambia had requested that judges from Nigeria and Sierra Leone sit on the court, but Chief Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle said they have indicated they cannot make it until at least May.

It is not clear what will happen if next week's inauguration goes ahead and the court later rules in favour of Mr Jammeh's party.

Jeffrey Smith, a human rights activist and founding director of Vanguard Africa, a US-based group that worked with Gambia's opposition coalition, said: "The Supreme Court case faced an issue of credibility from the very outset.

"That Jammeh was appointing the same judges who would hear his own court petition is an absolute mockery of justice."

Mr Smith said the inauguration is likely to take place regardless of the court outcome.

"The Gambian people have unequivocally spoken, and their will has been admirably backed by ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States), the African Union, the OIC (the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation), and the UN," he said.

But Edward Gomez, a lawyer for Mr Jammeh's Alliance for Patriotic Re-Orientation and Construction party, said the inauguration should not go ahead without the court reviewing the party's petitions.

The West African bloc has said it has a military force on standby if Mr Jammeh refuses to cede power when his mandate expires on January 19.

Meanwhile, Nigeria has announced that a West African delegation to Gambia will be delayed from Wednesday to Friday, as the regional bloc tries to persuade Mr Jammeh to step down.

Mr Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994 but is accused of gross human rights violations that include arbitrary detentions, torture and the killings of his opponents.


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