Gambia president to concede defeat after 22 years in office

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Gambian President Yahya Jammeh holds a copy of the Quran while speaking to a poll worker at a polling station during the presidential election in Banjul, Gambia, December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh holds a copy of the Quran while speaking to a poll worker at a polling station during the presidential election in Banjul, Gambia, December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

The man who led the West African nation of Gambia for the past 22 years is expected to concede defeat in the country’s recent election.

President Yahya Jammeh lost Thursday’s vote to opposing candidate and real estate developer Adama Barrow. Jammeh won 36.7 percent of the vote, compared to Barrow’s 45.5 percent, Reuters reported.

The incumbent president has not made a public statement about his loss, but a spokesman confirmed he has agreed to hand over power.

“It’s very unique that somebody who’s been ruling this country for so long accepted defeat even before it was announced by the returning officer,” the president of the country’s electoral commission, Alieu Momarr Njai, said at a press conference Friday.

Some Gambians were seen cheering on the streets of the capital, Banjul, on Friday, celebrating what they perceive as a new era. Many had been concerned about the fairness of the elections, because Jammeh has previously declared he planned to stay in office for “one billion years.”

Local newspapers reported the government shut down of the internet and international phone lines on election day in an attempt to block news from being reported around the world.

A Human Rights Watch report last month also detailed Jammeh’s crackdown on political opponents and use of state media and resources in his reelection bid.

The group welcomed the results of Thursday’s election but warned the process is not complete.

“Given the Jammeh government’s past record of intimidating and targeting perceived opponents, the transition period also carries risks,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement. “It is essential that during the political transition Gambian security forces continue to show respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

When Barrow takes office, he will be only the third president of the nation. After Gambia gained independence from the UK in 1965, Dawda Jawara ruled until Yahya Jammeh overthrew him in a 1994 coup.

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