The Gambia’s presidential campaign is currently underway ahead of the election on 1 December 2016 with incumbent President Yahya Jammeh expected to face his most significant challenge yet.
This comes following a meeting on 30 October 2016, where seven of The Gambia’s opposition parties agreed to coalesce their support behind Adama Barrow as a unified presidential candidate to challenge Jammeh.
Barrow is the leader of The Gambia’s largest opposition party, the United Democratic Party (UDP). He succeeded the UDP’s previous leader, Ousainou Darboe, in September 2016 after Darboe was sentenced in July 2016 to three years in prison for staging political rallies calling for electoral reform.
The seven-party coalition includes the UDP; Gambia Moral Congress (GMC); Gambia Party for Democracy and Progress (GPDP); National Convention Party (NCP); National Reconciliation Party (NRP); People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS); and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
By unifying behind Barrow as a single presidential candidate, the coalition is presenting the most significant electoral challenge to Jammeh in the two decades since he first came to power in a military-backed coup in 1994.
Jammeh is believed to take this newly unified opposition threat seriously and has increased his attempts to undermine their campaign. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), there has been an increase in incidents of political intimidation of supporters of the opposition coalition as well as increased suppression of the media. Accordingly, HRW has stated that the chances of a free and fair election taking place in The Gambia have been “all but extinguished”.
It is thus exceedingly likely that Jammeh will retain the presidency for a fifth consecutive term on 1 December 2016, given his control of the security forces and state apparatus. In addition, Jammeh and his political party, Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, have displayed scant regard for democratic norms and institutions in the past. However, it is possible that the newly unified opposition could reject the results of the election if they are nor shown to be free and fair. This would follow similar events by other opposition alliances in the region; the most notable being the refusal by the new opposition coalition in Gabon to accept the recent presidential election results, sparking a political crisis in that country.
If The Gambia follows a similar trajectory and the new opposition coalition rejects the election as rigged there is a strong likelihood of protests erupting in the country; particularly in the capital, Banjul. If such protests do occur there is a possibility of violent clashes between protesters and security forces.
Such violent demonstrations could result in a political crisis emerging in The Gambia. This could put diplomatic pressure on Senegal to intervene in some way due to the fact that The Gambia is essentially located within Senegal’s borders.
It should be noted that protests and demonstrations are also possible in the build-up to the 1 December election and that there is a threat of violent clashes at all opposition-led protests, as security forces loyal to Jammeh may seek to disperse any major opposition activity.