Gambian official: Opposition candidate Barrow wins election

Human rights groups have accused Jammeh of ordering the deaths of countless political opponents as well as targeting journalists, as well as gays and lesbians. AP photo. Photo credit: Jerome Delay.

BANJUL, Gambia (AP) — An opposition candidate was declared the winner Friday in Gambia's presidential election, an upset victory over longtime ruler Yahya Jammeh that could lead to the first transfer of power in the West African country in more than two decades.

Adama Barrow won 263,515 votes, or 45 percent, from Thursday's balloting, while Jammeh finished second with 36 percent, according to Alieu Momarr Njai, head of the election commission. A third candidate, Mama Kandeh, received 17 percent, he said.

"I hereby declare Adama Barrow duly elected president of the Republic of Gambia for the next five years," Njai said.

Jammeh had not issued a public statement by early afternoon, but Njai said the president would be calling Barrow, a former businessman, "to congratulate him and pray for peace and tranquility."

News of Barrow's victory prompted thousands to take to the streets in celebration — some on foot while others rode in cars and trucks and on motorbikes — as confused soldiers looked on.

"There will be celebrations, there will be disappointment, but we all know we are all Gambia," Njai said, calling for peace, tolerance and tranquility to be respected as it was during campaigning.

Many Gambians stayed up all night listening to the radio and tallying results as they were announced constituency by constituency. They had voted by placing marbles into drums marked for each candidate.

Eight opposition parties united behind Barrow, and the campaign featured large opposition rallies and unprecedented expressions of frustration with Jammeh's more than 22 years in power.

After he voted, Jammeh had projected confidence, saying his victory was all but assured by God. He predicted "the biggest landslide in the history of the country."

"We are happy to be free," said Omar Amadou Jallow, an opposition leader for the People's Progressive Party, which joined the coalition supporting Barrow. "We are able to free the Gambian people from the clutches of dictatorship, and we are now going to make sure Gambia becomes a bastion of peace and coalition. Our foundation will be based on national reconciliation."

Jammeh came to power in a coup in 1994 and then swept elections in 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2011 after a 2002 constitutional amendment removed presidential term limits. Critics say those earlier elections were not free and fair.

Human rights groups have accused Jammeh of ordering the deaths of countless political opponents as well as targeting journalists, as well as gays and lesbians.

All internet and international phone service was cut on election day in a bid by Jammeh to thwart unrest.

If Jammeh steps down peacefully, it would demonstrate that even Africa's most entrenched leaders can be removed from power if opposition politicians overcome their divisions and unite, said Jeffrey Smith, a human rights activist and founding director of Vanguard Africa, a U.S.-based group that worked with Gambia's opposition coalition.

"This is going to have resonance way beyond the tiny borders of Gambia," Smith said, describing the result as "a momentous occasion for the region writ large."


Associated Press journalists Jerome Delay in Banjul and Robbie Corey-Boulet Abidjan, Ivory Coast, contributed.

By CARLEY PETESCH,  Associated Press

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved.

The Gayly - 12/2/2016 @ 11:42 a.m. CST.