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#GambiaDecides2021: The six candidates seeking to be Gambia’s president in Saturday’s election

On Saturday, December 4, the people of Gambia will go to the polls to elect their president.

In the election, Gambian President Adama Barrow will face five challengers in the first voting exercise since the exiled former leader Yahya Jammeh fled the country after refusing to accept defeat five years ago.

Last month, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the country’s electoral umpire, announced that 15 presidential candidates were rejected while another six others, including Mr Barrow, were approved to contest.

Makan Khan, the spokesperson for the IEC, said that most of the rejected applications did not meet the constitutional requirements, with the most common problem being voters’ failure to comply with the sponsorship requirement. Article 47 of the electoral code stipulates that each candidate must submit a sponsorship list made up of at least 200 registered voters in each constituency but Khan said eight of the rejected applications were submitted by independent candidates.

Apart from the incumbent president Adama Barrow from the National People’s Party (NPP), other candidates in Saturday’s election are Ousainou Darboe from the United Democratic Party (UDP), Mama Kandeh from the Gambia Democratic Congress, and Halifa Sallah from the People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS).

Others are Essa Mbaye Faal, an Independent, and Abdoulie Ebrima Jammeh of the National Unity Party (NUP).

The electoral contest is expected to be peaceful, according to polls and media reports, although there are concerns about the image of the ousted president Yahya Jammeh looming large over the elections.

Mr Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994 to assume power as chairman of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) and later as president, ruling for 22 years, until 2016 when he was defeated by Mr Barrow. Following the defeat and resulting reactions, Mr Jammeh had to leave The Gambia on exile to Equatorial Guinea in January 2020.

Mr Barrow, a product of a coalition of seven political parties, was meant to govern for three years, as agreed by the coalition, but midway decided to complete his tenure and now seeks re-election.

PREMIUM TIMES presents the candidates and how they stand.

Adama Barrow

Mr Barrow’s fate at the polls will be determined by the peoples’ verdict on his success or otherwise in dragging the country out of the Yahya Jammeh era. Mr Jammeh’s era was characterised by crackdowns on political opponents, fear, widespread corruption, extra-judicial executions, detentions without trial, and media harassment.

Media reports said human rights has improved enormously under Mr Barrow, but as the incumbent president, he has so much to defend in terms of his leadership records. There have been concerns over rising crime and poor electricity and internet networks in the country.

President Adama Barrow of Gambia

Mr Barrow’s most significant worry, according to many political pundits, is in the area of trust: he initially said he would only serve as a transitional leader for three years but he can now run for as long as he likes.

Last year, a bill to limit presidents to two terms failed to pass.

Again, Mr Barrow recently signed a controversial electoral pact with the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), the party formed by Mr Jammeh in 1996. Many have expressed fears that the pact may ease the return of Mr Jammeh. Others have said that it might as well undermine the work of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission established in 2018 to investigate human rights violations under the Jammeh presidency.

Despite all of these issues, 56-year-old Mr Barrow is still widely considered the shoo-in.

On its website, Mr Barrow’s party, NPP, listed as its core areas of intervention: health, education, agriculture, economy, infrastructure, women and youth.

Ousainou Darboe

73-year-old Mr Darboe was widely considered the face of opposition politics in Gambia. As the leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP), the country’s largest opposition political force, he was a thorn in the flesh of the Jammeh government for decades.

He was, however, detained by the Jammeh government after one death was recorded during a protest. He was eventually sentenced to three years in prison.

Ousainou Darboe. [PHOTO CREDIT: The Voice of Gambia]

When Mr Barrow was sworn in as president after the exit of Mr Jammeh, Mr Darboe served as foreign minister and one of the three vice presidents in the Barrow government.

Things fell apart between both men in March 2019 and he was sacked.

In Saturday’s election, aside from the incumbent, he is widely considered the strongest contender for the presidential seat. He is also the oldest candidate seeking votes in a country with a significant youthful voting population.

In his party manifesto titled ‘Justice, peace, progress’, he hopes to prioritise youth employment and empowerment, education, nutrition, agriculture and food security. He promised to ‘establish a youth entrepreneurship fund’ and ‘award 25 per cent or more of government contracts and projects to young people and youth enterprises.

Mama Kandeh

Mama Kandeh is the leader of the Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC). He recently signed a controversial MoU with supporters of ex-president Yahya Jammeh.

Amid criticism, he said in October that the MoU does not include an amnesty for Mr Jammeh.

Mr Kandeh, born in 1965, has equally had to refute allegations that he was put up by former President Jammeh. In 2016, Mr Kandeh came third, with 17.1 per cent of the votes cast in the presidential polls, behind Mr Barrow and Mr Jammeh

Mama Kandeh. [PHOTO CREDIT: Wikipedia]

He was a former APRC stalwart until his expulsion after which he formed the Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC).

Mr Kandeh’s candidacy was initially contested on the ground that he never attended high school but the IEC in November approved his candidacy.

Key manifesto points include quality education, environmental protection, local governance autonomy among others.

Halifa Sallah

Halifa Sallah, 68, is a Gambian opposition leader and candidate of the People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), a party he co-founded in 1986. He is also one of the main figures in the opposition coalition National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD).

Earlier in June 2005, along with the other three opposition MPs, Mr Sallah was expelled from the National Assembly on the grounds of dual party membership. NADD had been registered as a political party and the Supreme Court of The Gambia judged that it went against the Gambian Constitution to belong to two parties at the same time. Consequently, a by-election was held and Mr Sallah was reelected.

Halifa Sallah. [PHOTO CREDIT: Voice of Gambia]

As a respected opposition voice, Mr Sallah is also in the race for the presidential seat.

With deep-rooted socialist ideology, the PDOIS in its manifesto tagged ‘transformative agenda’ hopes for a system change through seven core areas; ‘political, economic, social, civil, cultural, ecological and external relations pillars of development.’

Currently a member of The Gambian parliament representing Serekunda Central constituency, Mr Sallah is the Leader of the opposition in the National Assembly.

Abdoulie Ebrima Jammeh

Born in 1969, Abdoulie Jammeh was in August announced as the standard-bearer of the National Unity Party (NUP) for the election. In announcing Abdoulie Jammeh’s candidacy, the NUP noted it reached the decision ‘following a vigorous and thorough search for a competent and passionate Presidential candidate in recent months.’ A former Managing Director of The Gambia Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), he was once arrested and detained on the order of his namesake, former President Yahya Jammeh, for not properly maintaining the presidential fleet.

In a 24-page manifesto, the presidential candidate noted his vision was to ‘induce a sustained socio-economic transformation in The Gambia based on the principles of democracy, equality, justice, and the promotion of social cohesion to foster and maintain national unity.’ The NUP has promised that its candidates would only be able to seek re-election once according to party rules.

Essa Mbaye Faal

Essa Mbye Faal recently resigned his position as the lead prosecutor of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission to contest as an independent candidate. He is an international lawyer who until recently was the chief prosecutor of the TRRC.

Essa Mbaye Faal. [PHOTO CREDIT: Voice of Gambia]
Essa Mbaye Faal. [PHOTO CREDIT: Voice of Gambia]

Being the only independent candidate at the election, Essa Faal will hope to repeat the feat attained by Mr Barrow in the 2016 election. Born in 1966, Mr Faal is an international lawyer who served as chief prosecutor on The Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), a commission set up by President Barrow to investigate the 22-year rule of his predecessor. If elected, Mr Faal hopes to run an inclusive government in a bid to set the country off corruption, promote economic development and infrastructural transformation.

“The first 100 days in office will set the tone, pace and work ethic for the presidency. We will listen to all political parties, stakeholders and development partners on specific programme, project and activities, but ‘we shall start by implementing a portfolio of activities, to pave the way for the transformative National Turn Around,” he told journalists in November.

Like Ebrima Jammeh, political pundits have said that Mr Faal is not expected to pose any serious threat to the leading contenders on Saturday.

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