Gambia President Jammeh Quits After Suffering Election LossBy
Jammeh accepts election loss in broadcast on state television
Opposition candidate Barrow wins by more than 50,000 votes
Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh said he’ll step down after losing this week’s presidential election in a remarkable about-face that prompted thousands of Gambians to celebrate the departure from office of a leader who had vowed to rule for a billion years.
“Gambians have decided that I should take the backseat,” Jammeh said Friday on state television, hours after the election commission declared that opposition leader Adama Barrow, a virtual unknown six months ago, emerged as winner of the Dec. 1 poll. “You have voted for someone to lead our country. This is our country, and I wish you all the best.”
Barrow obtained 263,515 votes, while Jammeh got 212,099, according to the election commission.
Gambians took to the streets on Friday and celebrated the surprise outcome by brandishing flags and campaign posters as police patrolled in the capital, Banjul. “This is really extraordinary,” said a young woman who gave her name as Mariam. “We were never able to celebrate like this.”
Barrow took over as head of the United Democratic Party after its founder, Ousainou Darboe, was sentenced to three years in jail in July for organizing a rare protest march. Barrow, 51, was backed by seven other opposition parties.
Criticized by human rights groups for brutally stifling dissent, Jammeh got landslide victories in four previous polls. Bellicose statements and claims of extraordinary powers were hallmarks of his leadership style, with Jammeh saying he could cure AIDS and infertility and proclaiming himself a doctor as well as a professor.
Gambia is isolated by its geographical location as an English-speaking sliver of a country surrounded on three sides by French-speaking Senegal. Jammeh’s haphazard criticism of regional organizations such as Ecowas and the African Union alienated the nation further.
A former security guard, Barrow was active in local politics but never held public office. He earned an income from real estate before he announced his intention to run for president. During his campaign, he pledged to appoint a transitional government.
Jammeh undertook to vacate his office by January, Barrow told reporters at his house in Banjul on Saturday after meeting with coalition partners.
“My commitment is to become the president for all Gambians,” Barrow said. “I thank all Gambians for massively voting for me.”
Barrow said he will prioritize job creation in a country where thousands of young people among the population of less than 2 million are trying to emigrate each year. He will also restore ties with the international community, he said.
In the one-round election, each candidate was represented by a metal drum in which voters cast a glass marble. Jammeh won 72 percent of the votes in 2011. Internet services were restored on Friday after being blocked nationwide for almost two days.
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