By D. A. Jawo
Banjul, The Gambia—It is quite obvious that outgoing President Yahya Jammeh was very much surprised by his defeat at the polls which he had never anticipated despite all the signs to that effect. This is apparently why he was so confused by the results that he did not know how to react, hence his initial acceptance of the results only to make a U-turn and nullify the result.
It must have taken him sometime for the implications of his defeat to sink and for him to realize that he was on his way out of State House, which he never thought was possible because he thought he had done so much for Gambians and had the electoral system tightly under his control that elections could have ever unseat him from power.
While there is no easy answer to the question as to how Jammeh lost the election, there are a few indications how his defeat came about, and most of them were his own making. In the first place, his arrogance and lack of respect for the ordinary Gambians was no doubt one of them. As far as he is concerned, he was put in power by the Almighty Allah and the blessings of his parents and not by the people who continuously voted for him. That was why he kept on bragging that neither elections nor a coup d’état could remove him from power.
Secondly, subjecting the Mandinkas, the country’s largest ethnic group, to the most vitriolic attack, describing them as rats that he would wipe out, when he had been winning in virtually all the Mandinka-dominated areas of the country, played a significant part in his defeat. A majority of Gambians found such attacks so despicable and uncalled for, especially from a Head of state, that they agreed that it was time for him to go.
Another of his mistakes was no doubt the decision to verbally declare the country an Islamic Republic in complete violation of Chapter 1, Section 1 (1) of the 1997 Constitution which says; “The Gambia is a Sovereign Secular Republic”, which is an entrenched clause that can only be changed by a referendum. He apparently seems to have been listening to the advice of Islamic radicals like Dr. Zakir Naik, failing to realize that even though The Gambia is a majority Muslim country, Gambian Muslims would never accommodate radical Islam that would sow seeds of discord between them and their non-Muslim compatriots.
Apart from taking Gambians for granted and doing things on his own without any regard to how the people felt, he was also to a large extent, responsible for his own defeat through some certain unwise decision and actions. For instance, if he had not precipitated the removal of that section of the Constitution which called for a second round in the event none of the candidates obtains more than 50 per cent of the vote in the first round, he could have gone to a second round and he was very likely to have won, especially, if he had made a deal with Mamma Kandeh who came third in the elections.
Another of his mistakes was that, if the rumours were correct, Mamma Kandeh was not qualified to contest the elections because Gambia’s electoral law required that candidates hold a High School Certificate which Kandeh never had, but Jammeh was said to have insisted that he be allowed to stand, apparently with the belief that Kandeh was going to share the opposition vote potentially making his victory much easier. It however turned out that Kandeh instead, took his own potential votes. In fact, all the areas that Kandeh won or scored high were the places Jammeh used to easily win in all the past elections.
Therefore, Kandeh’s participation in the election was a blessing in disguise for the opposition Coalition because if he had not contested, it is almost quite obvious that Jammeh would have won again.
Again, Jammeh’s failure to appoint the required number of judges for the Supreme Court for more than a year could have been deliberate as he was quite sure that he was going to win the elections and also, sure that the opposition were going to challenge the results, and without a Supreme Court in place, their complaints would never have been heard. However, it has now boomeranged on him as without a quorum, it is hard to see how his complaint can be heard by the Supreme Court. Of course, it is out of the question for him to appoint the required number of judges at this stage for them to hear his case. That would be unacceptable to both the Coalition and the international community.
Another of his self-imposed legal constraints is no doubt his order for the security forces to take over the headquarters of the Independent Electoral Commission and prevent the Chairman, Alieu Momar Njai and his staff from access to their offices, where all the elections records are supposedly kept. What is the guarantee that his supporters are not going to tamper with the records in order to make a case for him when the matter ever reaches the Supreme Court? That was indeed not a very wise move, especially happening on the very day that the ECOWAS delegation was in Banjul and they witnessed everything that happened.
Therefore, with the above as well as several other arrogant decisions Jammeh made and his cohorts, it is very hard to see how he would still hope to remain in power. He should definitely understand that the game is over and the best he could do for the country that he claims to love so much is to accept that he has been rejected by the majority of the Gambian electorate and exit peacefully.
Of course, both the Coalition and the international community have made it categorically clear that after his mandate expires on the 19 January, 2017, he must step down and if he fails to do so, then there is possibility of military action to flush him out. Let us however hope and pray that such a possibility will never arise.
Indeed, President Jammeh and his few remaining supporters would be fooling themselves to think that when it comes to taking military action against him, most members of The Gambia National Army would risk their lives to defend the indefensible when they know that he would be eventually forced out and that he has all members of his family safe abroad while their own families are in the country.