Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh says he rejects the outcome of last week’s elections, after previously conceding defeat and vowing to step down.
The president, who has ruled Gambia for more than 22 years, said on state television Friday night that he wants to see new elections.
The announcement throws the political future of the West African country into question, and is a dramatic turnaround from last week when Jammeh called opposition candidate Adama Barrow to concede defeat after the president’s unexpected loss.
Gambia’s state media broadcast a phone call last Friday in which President Jammeh told Barrow that he wanted to hand over power graciously and vowed not to contest the results of the December 1 election.
Jammeh congratulated Barrow for his “clear victory” and praised the elections as “transparent” and “rig-proof.” He also said, “Allah is telling me my time is up,” and added he would move to his farm after leaving office in January.
Gambia’s Independent Electoral Commission said last Friday that Barrow won 263,000 votes, or 45 percent of the total, while Jammeh took 212,000 votes, about 36 percent. A third candidate, Mama Kandeh, won 17 percent.
Following the announcement, crowds of people gathered to dance in the streets of the Gambian capital, Banjul, in celebration of Barrow’s victory.
The U.S. State Department released a statement late Friday, saying, “We strongly condemn President Jammeh’s December 9 statement rejecting the December 1 election results and calling for new elections.”
The statement called upon Jammeh to “carry out an orderly transition of power to President-elect Barrow in accordance with the Gambian constitution.”
Jammeh, 51, has ruled the tiny West African nation since taking power in a military coup in 1994. He won four subsequent elections that critics said were neither free nor fair and supported a 2002 constitutional amendment that removed presidential term limits. He once said he could rule Gambia for “a billion years.”
Rights groups have often accused Jammeh of having political opponents and journalists either arrested or killed.
Barrow, also 51, represented a coalition of seven opposition parties that challenged Jammeh in Thursday’s election.
Gambia is a former British colony that occupies a narrow sliver of land surrounded by French-speaking Senegal. About 880,000 Gambians were eligible to vote in the December 1 poll, which took place under a complete communications blackout, including social media platforms.
VOA’s State Department correspondent Steve Herman contributed to this report.