The Gambia’s National Assembly yesterday adopted a resolution to allow President Yahya Jammeh stay in power for three more months, starting from yesterday, just hours before the end of his official tenure.
Jammeh, who has ruled the West African country for 22 years, initially acknowledged opponent Adama Barrow as the winner of the national elections on December 1, last year. He later changed his mind and rejected the ballot count as flawed and lodged a complaint with the country’s Supreme Court.
There were plans to swear in Barrow, who was in Senegal, to take office today. The President-elect has insisted his inauguration will proceed as planned despite the state of emergency declared by Jammeh and the national assembly resolution, extending Jammeh’s term by three months.
The move by the Gambian parliament came a day after Jammeh declared a 90-day state of emergency, alleging “unprecedented and extraordinary amount of foreign interference” in the country’s internal affairs.
“The decision to declare a state of emergency was taken by the national parliament, but the only people who are sitting in parliament are the members of Jammeh’s political party,” Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from neighbouring Senegal’s capital, Dakar, said.
Jammeh is refusing to step down despite international pressure and a threat by leaders of the Economic Community of West African States of a military intervention to make him hand over to Barrow.
“According to ECOWAS officials, the national assembly’s decision is inconsequential,” Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from Abuja, said.
They said whether Jammeh’s tenure has been extended by three months, one year or 10 years, has no meaning. What they are saying is Jammeh “must step down after midnight on Wednesday (yesterday), otherwise, ECOWAS and the African Union will intervene to ensure that the mandate given to Barrow by the people of Gambia stands the next day.”
Jammeh’s decision not to step down has created political turmoil in the country. At least five ministers have resigned from his government, hundreds of people have fled to neighbouring Senegal and others in the country say they fear violence.
The regional leaders have threatened to use military force to oust Mr Jammeh if he refuses to hand power to President-elect Barrow today.
Thousands of United Kingdom (UK) and Dutch tourists were being evacuated from The Gambia, a country famous with European holidaymakers because of its beaches.
The Gambia was plunged into crisis after Jammeh rejected Barrow’s victory in the last December’s election.
In a televised announcement on Tuesday, Jammeh said “any acts of disobedience to the laws of The Gambia, incitement of violence and acts intended to disturb public order and peace” were banned under the state of emergency.
He said security forces were instructed to “maintain absolute peace, law and order”.
What has been the international reaction?
Through its State Department, the United States (U.S.) urged Jammeh to transfer power to Barrow as constitutionally required.
“Doing so would allow him to leave office with his head held high and to protect The Gambian people from potential chaos,” spokesman John Kirby said.
“Failure to do so will put his legacy, and more importantly The Gambia, in peril,” he added.
Regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), has prepared a Senegal-led force to oust Jammeh if he failed to step down.
A military source told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that a Nigerian warship was sailing towards The Gambia as a show of force ahead of possible military intervention.
Nigeria’s Air Force also prepared 200 “supporting” troops for the regional force, Navy spokesman Capt Dahun Jahun told the Associated Press news agency. Ghana was also contributing to the force, it reported.
ECOWAS has the backing of the African Union (AU) not to recognise Jammeh as president after today.
Where is President-elect Barrow?
President Barrow, a property developer, has been in neighbouring Senegal since Saturday. His aides assured he would return to The Gambia for his inauguration.
In his only comment since the state of emergency was declared, he tweeted: “We made history on the first day of December. Our future starts tomorrow (today).”
Last month, he said he would be sworn in at a ceremony organised by his transition team, raising the possibility of two rival presidents.
Jammeh’s declaration of a state of emergency was seen as an attempt to block the ceremony, scheduled to take place at a stadium in Bakau town, west of the capital Banjul, from going ahead.
Barrow could, technically, also be sworn in at The Gambian embassy in Senegal. However, reports said there were no visible preparations underway there.
Could there be violence?
Thousands of Gambians, including women and children, have been fleeing to Senegal and further afield, fearing unrest.
Travel firm Thomas Cook said it would fly back to the UK, over the next 48 hours, 985 customers from package holidays after the Foreign Office advised “against all but essential travel to The Gambia due to ongoing political uncertainty and potential military intervention following the presidential elections”.
About 1,600 Dutch citizens were also being flown home after similar advice from their government.
Tourism has become the fastest-growing sector of The Gambia’s economy, and the country, which has a population of about two million, was marketed to holidaymakers as “the smiling coast of West Africa”.
But many of its citizens are poor and complain of political repression. Some, including the goalkeeper of the national women’s football team, have drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe in the hope of a better life.
Why is Jammeh refusing to leave office?
President Jammeh has ruled The Gambia since taking power in a bloodless coup in 1994 from the country’ first leader, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara.
Jawara, who first served as first as Prime Minister from 1962 to 1970, became President in 1970 until he was ousted a putsch in 1994.
The Gambia regularly held elections, which he won until his shock defeat by Barrow in the latest poll.
Jammeh has said there were irregularities in the election process, including the turning away of some of his supporters from polling stations, and errors made by the electoral commission.
The commission accepted that some of the results it initially published contained errors, but said Barrow had still won.
Jammeh said he will stay in office until new elections are held. Retaining power would also ensure he was not prosecuted in The Gambia for alleged abuses committed during his 22-year rule.
U.S. to Jammeh: leave power now
THE United States (U.S.) has warned the embattled President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia of the consequences of not vacating office at the expiration of his tenure today.
Jammeh, the U.S. said, will be losing opportunities to peacefully handover to President-elect Adama Barrow and avoid the consequences of his actions.
Following his defeat at the national election on December 1, last year, Jammeh’s tenure ends today and Barrow, expected to be sworn in as his successor.
Both the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have said that Jammeh will cease to be recognised as Gambian President from today.
At news briefing on Tuesday, U.S. Department of State spokesperson Mr. John Kirby said that Jammeh was putting his legacy and The Gambia in peril.
He said: “President Jammeh is losing opportunities to respect the will of he Gambian people and to peacefully hand over power to the president-elect, which is supposed to happen on Thursday (today).
“Doing so would allow him to leave office with his head held high and to protect the Gambian people from potential chaos.
“Failure to do so will put his legacy – and, more importantly, the Gambia – in peril, and we have been clear about this,” he said.
According to him, “the accusation by Jammeh of external interference in The Gambia’s internal affairs is not tenable.
“I don’t know what interference he’s referring to, but we obviously want to see the Gambia succeed.
“And we want to see the president-elect properly installed and to have in place a government, which is responsible for and responsive to the needs of the Gambian people.”
The U.S. had last Friday, indicated support for ECOWAS to take all necessary action on Jammeh if he failed to hand over power.
The U.S. had regretted that Jammeh’s action had made the situation in The Gambia to become “very uncertain”.
“We call on President Jammeh to listen to his own people, to listen to the Gambian people who have clearly called on him to accept the results of the December 1st election.
“And to again agree to what he already agreed to, which is a peaceful handover of power to President-elect Barrow.”
Kirby, however, said the U.S. “believes that ECOWAS can certainly play an important role in providing for security and addressing some of the concerns that there could be violence around the transition”.
He also said that the U.S. was not ruling out its support to a military action, saying: “We do, and I’m not trying to back away from that in any way, shape, or form.
“I just would say that we do, obviously, support ECOWAS as a force for peace and security in the region, and specifically in The Gambia.
“Well, again, I don’t want to speak to what possible actions they may take. I don’t want to get out in front of those decisions,” he said.