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Gambian Opposition Leader Reflects on Election

In the Gambia, President Yahya Jammeh has won a third five-year term following the announcement of the September 22 election results. The Electoral Commission says President Jammeh won 67 percent of the vote compared with 27 percent for his main challenger Ousainou Darboe and six percent for Halifa Sallah. So what does the victory mean for the future of the opposition in the Gambia? English to Africa reporter James Butty put that question to Halifa Sallah, presidential candidate for the National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD), a coalition of three political parties.

“Our reaction is an ideological one. We are saying that 670 thousand 336 voters registered. But only 392 thousand 685 actually cast their vote. This constituted voter apathy, and we believe that the reason for the apathy is due to a split in the opposition alliance. Secondly in the Gambia, the state and party seem to be one, and this has been a great problem because the president has utilized the state machinery to its optimum. So many people felt that he was going to win.”

Mr. Sallah says he does not think now is the time for the opposition to apportion blame, but rather to learn from their mistake.

“We felt, when we started to build the party, that no single party was there that could serve as the vanguard for other parties to follow to be able to defeat Jammeh, that the best thing was to create alliance that would contest in the name of the alliance and where the person who is our flag bearer would be there for only five years. But they decided to break away.”

But main opposition leader Ousainou Darboe told VOA on Election Day that a sign of democracy is for any party willing and able to contest an election to be allowed to contest. But Sallah says based on Friday’s results, Darboe would probably regret his analysis.

“I’m sure he will tell you that there was no level playing field, and where you have a state which merges party and state to a level where you cannot distinguish party and state, then you are not talking about an ordinary democratic situation where you simply go and contest based on a popular vote. The situation is that the authority, which exists, has overwhelming power, and it is willing to utilize that power to stay in power.”

Sallah says the issue is not whether the opposition would be willing to work with President Jammeh as the president has requested, but rather it is the issue of building a democratic foundation in Africa.