A Former Argos security guard from North London is set to become the president of Gambia in an unprecedented upset for president Yahya Jammeh who had pledged to rule for a billion years.
President Jammeh, who has ruled the tiny West African nation for 22 years since he staged a coup, conceded defeat to opposition leader Adama Barrow, the chairman of the electoral commission on Friday morning.
“It’s really unique that someone who has been ruling this country for so long has accepted defeat,” Alieu Momar Njie told reporters.
Gambian state television told AFP that the 51-year-old head of state, who seized power in a coup in 1994, would make a statement later in the day to congratulate Barrow.
Jammeh was running for a fifth term with his Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), while Barrow ran for eight political groups who united for the first time to field a single candidate.
Barrow, a previously unknown businessman, once worked as a security guard at Argos on Holloway Road, North London.
On Thursday, after voting with his wife in the capital, Banjul, President Jammeh predicted a decisive win.
“This will be the biggest landslide in the history of the country,” he said, but Barrow correctly predicted Gambians were ready for change after more than 20 years of the Jammeh regime.
“He is not going to be re-elected – his era is finished,” Barrow said.
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 elections were not free and fair and accused his regime of corruption and flagrant human rights abuses.
The president’s supporters praised his efforts to boost economic development in the small country that is dependent on tourism and agriculture.
More than 880,000 voters were registered to participate at more than 1,400 polling stations, where they were asked to place a marble in either a green, silver or purple drum depending upon their choice.
The African Union sent a handful of observers to this country of 1.9 million but there are no observers from the European Union or the West African regional bloc ECOWAS because the Gambian government did not grant them accreditation.
Jammeh said before the vote that he would not allow even peaceful demonstrations, dismissing them as “loopholes that are used to destabilise African governments.”
In a statement Thursday, rights groups criticised the circumstances under which the vote took place, especially the cutting of internet services and international calls.
All internet services were blocked at about 8 pm Wednesday night, while messaging services such as Whatsapp and Viber were blocked weeks before the vote, Human Rights Watch said.