The leader of Gambia’s main opposition United Democratic Party said his and five other parties plan to boycott the country’s March 29th legislative election unless the Independent Election Commission [IEC] can assure them of a level playing field.
Ousainou Darboe’s comments came as other opposition leaders in The Gambia have asked the Economic Community of West African States [ECOWAS] to arbitrate the dispute ahead of the election.
Darboe said the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Re-orientation and Construction Party of President Yahya Jammeh is also abusing the power of incumbency in order to tilt the election results in its favor.
“I have joined with other opposition parties in the country not to participate in the upcoming National Assembly election. This due is to the fact that the IEC has rejected our demand for a postponement of the election so as to enable a level playing field being created, which would allow for a free, fair and transparent election,” he said.
Darboe said a level playing field would be created if the entire government apparatus, including the Gambian military, police and civil service, are made to stay out of politics.
He said, at present, there’s no distinction between the ruling party and the government of President Jammeh.
“They are using government resources. They operate from the offices of the regional governors and from the offices of the various local authorities to operate,” Darboe said.
Darboe said those found to be sympathetic to opposition parties are given what he called “raw deals,” including losing their government jobs.
“In fact, I had a prospective candidate for Banjul North, but the mother was threatened she would lose her job if she allowed her daughter to contest the election,” Darboe said.
Reports quoting the IEC said four members of Darboe’s party had resigned to contest the elections as independent candidates.
Darboe said two, not four, members of his party had resigned to take part in the March 29th election.
“To my knowledge, only two members of my party have resigned, and I believe they have the right to choose whatever political party they wish to choose, but the party felt this is not the time for us to contest this election, and he did the honorable thing to resign, and I respect his decision,” Darboe said.
ECOWAS did not observe last year’s election saying that the vote would not be free and fair because of Jammeh’s control of the media and voter intimidation.
Darboe said the opposition has appealed to ECOWAS to mediate the dispute before the election.
“We are asking the ECOWAS to mediate in the matter so that sanity will prevail on the independent electoral commission and the government of The Gambia to postpone the election to allow time for the creation of a level playing field. I think this will do a lot for Gambia’s democratic credentials,” Darboe said.