By Alhagie Jobe
Midnight GMT tonight, Tuesday, 29th November, 2016 is the deadline for political campaigns in the Gambia ahead of Thursday’s decisive vote in the country.
Gambia heads to the polls on Thursday, December 1st with incumbent President Yahya Jammeh seeking for a fifth term.
Meanwhile, the build up to Election Day has been very engaging and interactive both in the open and in close doors. In the last day of campaigning, Mr Jammeh and his APRC party wrapped up their campaign rallies in the capital, Banjul, while Mama Kandeh and his GDC party where in Youna and the coalition started their day at Buffer Zone to Serrekunda and to Bakau.
Incumbent President Jammeh is facing perhaps the biggest political challenge during his 22 years in power. He is been challenged by Adama Barow who is leading a revitalized and united opposition coalition and Mama Kandeh of the Gambia Democratic Congress who was a former National Assembly member of the ruling Jammeh APRC party.
This week’s poll comes at the end of a turbulent year that has given hope to opposition supporters that change may be on the horizon.
“I am the best president that Gambians will ever get,” Mr Jammeh, who once said he would rule his country for “a billion years”, said on Tuesday. “My presidency and power are in the hands of Allah and only Allah can take it from me.”
He also said he will “never pardon” opposition activists who are in prison.
The opposition is banking hopes on a failed Yahya Jammeh presidency to get them power. They have held mammoth rallies buoyed by an ‘unprecedented’ groundswell of support, hoping to put an end to the iron-fisted rule of President Yahya Jammeh.
“My chances are high to beat the incumbent president Jammeh with a landslide victory. A new Gambia will be born December first,” Coalition standard bearer Adama Barrow told reporters on Tuesday. He has promised to rule only for a three-year transition period.
The third candidate, Mamma Kandeh of the GDC and a former Jammeh ally and Member of Parliament who has since formed his own political party – could also drain votes from the opposition under Gambia’s single-round election system.
Yahya Jammeh, 51, seized power as a young army officer in a 1994 coup and has maintained his control over Gambia in four subsequent elections despite growing international concern over his government’s deteriorating human rights record.
Long known for his eccentricities, including a snap decision last year to declare Gambia an Islamic republic, international attention has increasingly focused on the repressive nature of his rule.
Mr Jammeh has rejected outside criticism and last month announced Gambia’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, a body he says is biased against Africans and which his spokesman dubbed the “International Caucasian Court”.
In April, small protests in Banjul calling for electoral reform led to dozens of arrests, including that of the leader of the main opposition UDP party, Mr Ousainu Darboe.
Two other UDP members have since died in custody while others remain in jail, but the almost unheard of act of defiance has helped galvanize Jammeh’s opponents.
Gambians will now decide on Thursday, December 1st, who goes to the State House.