Gambia: Jammeh under pressure, orders electoral staff to resume work amid tight security
(Vanguard) –As the West African standby force are on alert over Gambia, the country’s embattled President Yahya Jammeh has ordered staff of electoral body to resume work. The staff of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) had not gone to work since the military seized the office.
But defeated Jammeh has ordered the staff to return to their offices unhindered with immediate effect. According to a statement from the Presidency read over the state television on Wednesday evening, the deployment of soldiers at Election House was due to “imminent security threat that it would be burnt down. Meanwhile, with the Commission’s office still be heavily guarded by members of the Police Intervention Unit (PIU), it is hard to see how staff could proceed with their normal work.
The Presidency henceforth refuted reports by online news outlets on the deployment of soldiers at the IEC offices, linking it to the outcome of the December 1 election. Security forces took over the Election House days after President Jammeh rejected the election results and annulled the election, demanding a fresh election. Meanwhile, ECOWAS commission’s president, Marcel de Souza, has said that West Africa’s regional bloc has put standby forces on alert in case Jammeh does not step down when his mandate ends on Jan. 19.
He worried that the regional powers may intervene to oust him if diplomacy does not succeed in persuading him to leave. “We have put standby forces on alert if he does not step down on Jan. 19 when his mandate ends. “No one has the right to oppose the will of the people,’’ De Souza told newsmen.
Barrow’s surprise victory and Jammeh’s initial decision to concede after 22 years in power was seen across Africa as a moment of hope. Report says the president changed his mind a week later and said again on Tuesday that he would not step down, rebuffing efforts by West African leaders to persuade him.
Jammeh’s camp could not immediately be reached for comment, but he has said the electoral count was flawed and that ECOWAS has no right to meddle in Gambia’s internal affairs.
“The regional bloc has mandated Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari as mediator to offer Jammeh an “honourable exit”, but if he does not take it then forces might be deployed,’’ De Souza said. Senegalese troops would lead any military intervention. Senegal is Gambia’s only territorial neighbours and has a frequently stormy relationship with the country, having sent troops there during a 1981 coup. Senegal has indicated that military action would be an absolute last resort.
Diplomats say ECOWAS would probably seek approval from the UN Security Council for the use of force. ECOWAS deployed troops to Liberia and Sierra Leone during civil wars in the 1990s, setting a precedent for possible intervention. “A first step for raising pressure once the handover date passes is likely to be targeted sanctions by the UN and others,’’diplomats said.
They also raised the possibility that Jammeh could be offered asylum abroad. Barrow’s supporters suggested on Thursday that the president might not immediately be prosecuted for alleged human rights abuses during his rule.
“Justice is absolutely essential but we are going to take the route to truth and reconciliation,’’ coalition spokesman Halifa Sallah at a meeting with the African Bar Association, said.
Gambia’s Supreme Court would hear a legal challenge on Jan. 10 from Jammeh’s ruling party which wanted to overturn the election result.