Gambians vote in 1st post-Jammeh presidential election
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Polling stations opened to a high turnout, with many people lining up at the capital’s Independence Stadium before sunrise. Nearly a million voters had to drop marbles in one of six bins, each decorated with the face and name of a candidate.
Among them is incumbent President Adama Barrow, who defeated Jammeh in 2016 while running as a candidate for an opposition coalition.
Barrow’s challengers are former mentor and opposition leader Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party; Mama Kandeh of the Democratic Congress of The Gambia; Halifa Sallah of the People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism; Abdoulie Ebrima Jammeh of the National Unity Party; and Essa Mbye Faal, former senior lawyer for the Gambia Truth Commission, who is running under an independent ticket.
They are all committed to an agenda of change and a stronger economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic so that fewer Gambians feel pressured to travel the dangerous migratory route to Europe.
Despite the nation continues to suffer from the effects of his rule, including violations of rights and funds withdrawn from state coffers.
“As a country, we cannot heal without justice. We cannot have reconciliation without justice, ”Gambia Bar lawyer Salieu Taal told The Associated Press.
Jammeh left The Gambia in 2017. His two-decade reign was marked by arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and summary executions which were revealed by dramatic testimony during the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission hearings that lasted years.
Last week, the commission delivered its 17-volume report to President Barrow, urging him to live up to expectations by ensuring that perpetrators of human rights violations are prosecuted.
“I assure them (the families of the victims) that my government will ensure that justice is done, but I urge them to be patient and let the legal process take its course,” Barrow told Commissioners upon receiving their final report.
Ndey Sambou, a trader in Brikama market, told The Associated Press that the president should clarify the content of the memorandum of understanding signed between his party and the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), which s ‘is ultimately separated from Jammeh.
Sainey Senghore, who survived gunshot wounds in an April 2000 crackdown on peaceful students seeking justice for a rape victim, has made it clear that victims’ expectations will be at the forefront when they go to the polls Saturday.
“This government arrived with a lot of promises. In the end, they sideline the victims, working with the perpetrators, ”he said, calling Barrow’s rapprochement with the APRC“ very disheartening and very disappointing ”.
Similar sentiments were echoed by Abdoulie H. Bojang, whose son was killed during the violent crackdown on student protesters.
“We need justice so that we can put an end to this ongoing tragedy,” he said.
However, ties to Jammeh are not just a problem for the current president. Opposition candidate Kandeh had strong backing from a dissident political faction Jammeh formed during his exile in Equatorial Guinea.
While Kandeh has remained silent about Jammeh’s possible return to The Gambia, his allies say unequivocally that Jammeh will return if they emerge victorious in the elections.
Jammeh, who seized power in 1994 in a bloodless coup, was removed from office in 2016. After initially agreeing to step down, Jammeh resisted and a six-week crisis saw the neighboring West African countries prepare to send troops to organize an army. intervention. Jammeh was forced into exile and fled to Equatorial Guinea.
Among the other candidates, Sallah and Darboe are established politicians, but they face challenges from newcomers like Faal and Ebrima Jammeh, who are making waves in urban areas.
Gambians, accustomed to the violence surrounding the polls, are worried about a possible confrontation between supporters of Barrow and Darboe, as the years have seen a big rift between the two leaders who were once close.
Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal.
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