- Title: Gambia's Jammeh votes in presidential poll, biggest threat to his 22-year rule
- Date: 1st December 2016
- Summary: BANJUL, GAMBIA (DECEMBER 1, 2016) (REUTERS) ****WARNING CONTAINS FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY*** GAMBIA PRESIDENT YAHYA JAMMEH EXISTS VEHICLE AT POLLING STATION NEAR PRESIDENTIAL PALACE, ACCOMPANIED BY HIS WIFE ZEINAB SUMA JAMMEH AND SUMA WALKING/TALKING TO SCURITY OFFICER HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST, WEARING T-SHIRT READING CORPS PANAFRICAN JAMMEH REGISTERING TO VOTE BOX JAMMEH ENTERING VOTING BOOTH PEOPLE WAITING IN LINE TO VOTE GAMBIAN FLAG JAMMEH GETTING IN VEHICLE TO LEAVE PEOPLE/SCURITY OFFICERS
- Embargoed: 16th December 2016 14:42
- Keywords: Banjul Gambia election Jammeh Barrow Kandeh
- Location: BANJUL, GAMBIA
- City: BANJUL, GAMBIA
- Country: Gambia
- Reuters ID: LVA0015B1ZQ6F
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, seeking to extend his 22-year grip on power in the West African nation, cast his vote on Thursday (December 1) in an election that poses a rare challenge from a revitalised and united opposition.
Jammeh, 51, seized power as a young army officer in a 1994 coup and has maintained his control over Gambia in four subsequent elections despite growing international concern over his government's deteriorating human rights record.
Election observers have questioned the credibility of past polls. Regional bloc ECOWAS boycotted the last election in 2011, claiming the process was not free or fair and have also stayed away from this week's poll.
The European Union said this month that it had been refused access to monitor.
In the final days of campaigning, a grinning Jammeh stared out from the large billboards positioned every few hundred metres along the main roads leading into Banjul, the capital of the nation of 1.8 million people.
Long known for his eccentricities, including a claim to have invented a cure for AIDS and a snap decision last year to declare Gambia an Islamic republic, international attention has increasingly focused on the repressive nature of his rule.
Jammeh has rejected outside criticism and last month announced Gambia's withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, a body he says is biased against Africans and which his spokesman dubbed the "International Caucasian Court".
This week's poll comes at the end of a turbulent year that has given hope to opposition supporters that change may be on the horizon.
In April, small protests in Banjul calling for electoral reform led to dozens of arrests, including that of the leader of the main UDP opposition party Ousainu Darboe.
Two UDP members have since died in custody while others remain in jail, but the almost unheard of act of defiance has helped galvanise Jammeh's opponents.
Eight opposition parties have rallied behind businessman Adama Barrow, calling for human rights and justice reforms and a revamping of a stuttering economy that has made Gambians more likely than any other Africans to migrate illegally to Europe.
Opposition rallies have drawn large crowds in the last two weeks of campaigning. Thousands came out to cheer Barrow's motorcade on Sunday, banging drums as he passed.
Still, experts question whether victory is even possible given Jammeh's tight control of state resources, including the military and the police, and his reluctance to relinquish power.
A third candidate, Mamma Kandeh - a former Jammeh ally and member of parliament who has since formed his own political party - could also drain votes from the opposition under Gambia's single-round election system.
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