Ecowas on the spot over Gambia election

Saturday November 26 2011

By TAMBA JEAN-MATTHEW III

One of the two opposition presidential candidates in Gambia has rebutted allegations by Economic Community Of West African States (Ecowas), that the atmosphere was not conducive for the just held polls.

Mr Hamat Bah criticised the regional bloc for pulling out its observer mission after it complained that opposition politicians were intimidated throughout the country by President Yayah Jammeh’s party.

In an interview with the West Africa Democracy Radio on Thursday as voting continued, Mr Bah of the United Front coalition denied none of his coalition officials were arrested or intimidated by the incumbent regime.

“The move by Ecowas will only confuse and distract my supporters, possibly causing some of them to be reluctant to turn out to vote,” he said. On Wednesday, Ecowas issued a statement announcing the withdrawal of its observers from Thursday’s presidential election.

The statement was almost immediate rebutted by the Gambian government which described the claim as “a mere fabrication” and baseless. But in the interview on polling day, Mr Bah maintained that the just-ended campaign “so far has been different from other campaigns,” saying, “none of my supporters have been intimidated as I am speaking at this moment…I don’t know what will happen in the next ten minutes. I don’t know what will happen in the next hour…but as I’m speaking right now I have not received any report of intimidation, arrest or detention from my teams that were campaigning in various parts of the country,” he said.

But he expressed apprehension over the transparency and fairness of the polls which are widely believed to usher a foregone victory to the incumbent leader who is running for a fourth mandate.

The third candidate is a veteran lawyer, Osianou Darbo, who is the country’s longest-serving opposition politician and a member of parliament. An estimated 800,000 voters from a population of about 1.6 million were expected participate in the election.

However, the chairman of Gambia’s Independent Electoral Commission sharply denied reports conditions on the ground are not conducive to ensure the election was transparent, free and fair.

Mr Mustapha Carayol said: “it is impossible to rig elections in Gambia” despite opposition and international observer group claims that the vote will not be credible.

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