It is always a remarkable thing when an authoritarian president who no one expects to lose accepts defeat (quite jovially and seemingly even humbly) in an election. It is still remarkable, though less enjoyable, to see such a president turn around and retract his concession. That’s what happened in Gambia in the space of a week earlier this month.
An opposition leader’s unfortunate remark about plans to prosecute President Yahya Jammeh might have contributed, but surely Jammeh would fear that regardless of any statements. He may have attempted to stop the vote count on election day and failed, lacking support among military and police. (Guardian, Dec. 7)
Perhaps it just took him a week to rally (buy?) support in the security services to reject the election. The head of the army actually pledged his allegiance to the victor, Adama Barrow (defenceWeb, Dec. 8) only to appear a few days later with an image of Jammeh pinned to his uniform (Dakaractu, Dec. 14)
In the meantime, there had also been a substantial revision of the vote. Jammeh’s margin of defeat to Barrow narrowed from about nine percentage points to only four, although that’s still a fairly clear margin. Notwithstanding the result, Jammeh has declared himself president while armed forces continue to block the Independent Election Commission headquarters.
I will add, because this is F&V, that Gambia elects its president by plurality. Barrow’s vote total, according to the election commission, was 43.3%. Jammeh’s was 39.6% and a third candidate, Mama Kandeh, won 17.1%. I don’t know anything about Kandeh, but I wonder if his presence–or the lack of a runoff requirement–robbed Barrow of a more decisive victory. It might not have mattered, and of course we have seen African dictators before who admit falling to second place in the first round of a two-round election, then manage to make it impossible for the opposition to prevail (or even contest) the runoff. (See Zimbabwe, 2008.)