BANJUL — Gambia’s president once said he would govern the country for a billion years if God willed it. But voters may deliver an upset Thursday after years of economic hardship that have pushed thousands of young people to attempt the perilous Mediterranean crossing to Europe.
Yahya Jammeh will face the biggest challenge to his 22-year rule as a united opposition and frustration over the economy dominate the west African nation’s presidential campaign.
Around 880,000 Gambians are expected at the polls from 0800 GMT on Thursday in the tiny former British colony, a narrow sliver of land mostly surrounded by French-speaking Senegal.
Opposition rallies on an unprecedented scale have galvanised normally apathetic sections of society -- especially the young -- after the government’s repressive tactics backfired badly.
"Gambians, this is the only chance we have to remove him from power, if we fail to do so we’ll bite our fingers (regret it). This is the only chance we have. We should utilise it to the maximum," opposition leader Adama Barrow said on Friday.
Observers from the European Union and the Economic Community of West African States will not attend the vote. The Independent Electoral Commission declared that it owed "allegiance to nobody but the people of this country".
African Union observers are expected to oversee it, however. —AFP