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President Jammeh acknowledging cheers at the country’s 50th independence anniversary celebrations in Banjul last year. Jammeh, who has ruled The Gambia for 22 years with iron hand, has not been seen in public since he shocked observers by accepting his surprise loss in the 1 December election, leading to rumours that he had fled the country / © TAC

President Yahya Jammeh vows to deal ruthlessly with opponents as Gambians vote

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has warned that anyone involved in violence or unrest during the country’s presidential election on 1 December would be dealt with harshly.

“There will be zero tolerance of violence and anyone disregarding public order will face the full force of the law,” Jammeh told supporters at a rally broadcast on Gambian TV on Sunday. “I am warning all Gambians against violence.”

Though he faces an unprecedented surge in support for the opposition, Jammeh, who has been in power since 1994 and is running on the platform of the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, is expected to win a fifth five-year term in office.

Adama Barrow, representing Gambia Opposition for Electoral Reform – a coalition of eight opposition parties, is posing the greatest challenge to Jammeh’s rule, while Mama Kandeh of the Gambian Democratic Congress is standing as the third candidate.

The country has around 880,000 eligible voters, who will cast their ballot by dropping a marble into one of the three drums that are painted with the party colours and emblems of the candidates.

Apart from electing a president, voters will also choose 48 members of the National Assembly at the general election. Gambia is a one-party dominant democracy where opposition parties are allowed, but are widely considered to have no real chance of gaining power.

Critics, including political opponents, rights activists and Western diplomats, say Jammeh’s 22-year rule has been marred by human rights abuses and torture, but the president’s supporters deny the claims, pointing to the infrastructure development that has taken place in the country under his rule.

Nearly 50 protesters were arrested in April and May, including Ousainu Darboe, leader of the opposition UDP party, and at least 18 other senior members. Two have since died during their detention.

Kwame Appiah

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