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Gambian presidential election must be free and fair, says opposition candidate

By Daniel Finnan

The main opposition contender in Gambia’s forthcoming presidential polls has called on the African Union to help ensure a free and fair election. Adama Barrow, who is representing a coalition of opposition parties, told RFI that he hopes to “bring back democracy” to his country by challenging an incumbent president who has been in power since 1994.

“It’s very difficult to say whether it will be 100 percent free and fair,” Barrow said in a telephone interview. “But we expect this time it will be a better situation than previous ones” - a reference to President Yahya Jammeh’s victory in four previous multi-party elections.

Barrow hopes that the African Union election monitoring mission will offer an impartial analysis of the election’s conduct.

“The AU is representing Africa, it is not representing any individual, they are not representing the president,” he said. “I want them to be very, very neutral in this matter and send observers to The Gambia to observe the elections so that it will be free and fair.”

The Gambian authorities have refused access to the European Union to monitor the 1 December elections. “It’s a very unfortunate situation because the European Union is a partner for Gambia at different levels,” said Barrow.

The west African regional bloc Ecowas boycotted observation of Gambia’s last polls in 2011, calling the political environment in the country not “conducive for the conduct of free, fair and transparent polls”, according to a statement.

Q&A: Adama Barrow

Barrow was selected at the end of October by seven Gambian opposition parties. He became head of the United Democratic Party (UDP), the country’s largest opposition party, whose previous leader, Ousainou Darboe, was given a three-year jail sentence in July for taking part in an unauthorised demonstration.

“We feel that we have to move on, we have to fight on, win elections, free them from jail, that is our main objective,” said Barrow, when asked about replacing veteran politician Darboe as head of the opposition.

Election campaigning, which concludes on Tuesday, has been going “very well”, according to Barrow, “people are coming out to welcome us everywhere we go”. The Gambian authorities have not interfered with the opposition’s campaign, he said.

Barrow condemned the arrest of three journalists ahead of the polls, calling for them to be unconditionally released.

“It is not good for Gambia during the election period. Journalists work to give information and that information is very, very valuable,” he said.

“It’s Africa, the incumbent is losing, they'll do everything possible to block all information, but despite all that, the social media is doing very well for us,” said the presidential candidate, when asked about access to media accreditation and press coverage of the campaign.

On the campaign trail
Jammeh attends a campaign rally in Brikama on 24 November 2016. Photo: Marco Longari/AFP

Incumbent Jammeh, who came to power in a bloodless coup, has also been addressing his supporters on the campaign trail.

“I will not allow one person to jeopardise the peace, tranquillity and development of this country, I will never accept that,” Jammeh said during an event in Brikama, south of the capital Banjul, late on Friday.

“Those who do not want their children to end up in refugee camps, they know who to vote for,” the incumbent told supporters.

Jammeh won the 2011 elections with 72 percent of the vote with his nearest rival Ousainou Darboe garnering some 17 percent. After the results were announced the opposition leader called the results “bogus, fraudulent and preposterous”.

Barrow said he is currently leading in opinion polls ahead of 2016’s vote and predicts that it will be a “landslide victory with a big margin”. He said his campaign has focused on employment, repelling “bad laws” and creating a “level playing field” in the country’s politics. Most of the financial support for his campaign has come from Gambians in the diaspora, he said.

“On 1 December 2016 there'll be a change in the Gambia, a new Gambia will be born,” said Barrow. Jammeh would obviously not agree with his opposition rival, he told his supporters that as president he’s “better than anyone you would ever have”.

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