After publicly conceding electoral defeat last week, President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia has reversed course and is calling for a new election.
Jammeh has ruled the tiny West African country since seizing power in a coup in 1994, and his public concession to President-elect Adama Barrow on Dec. 2 led to hopes of the first peaceful transition of power in Gambia since it became independent from the U.K. in 1965.
On Friday, Jammeh said the Independent Electoral Commission made errors in vote tallies.
“In the same way that I accepted faithfully the results, believing that the IEC was independent and honest and reliable, I hereby reject the results in totality,” Jammeh said in a televised speech.
He also said there were other irregularities and problems in the electoral process.
“Our investigations reveal that in some cases, voters were told that the opposition has already won and there was no need for them to vote,” Jammeh said.
Last week, supporters of the opposition took to the streets to celebrate Barrow’s win. Jammeh’s allegations are now “plunging Gambia into confusion and uncertainty,” NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.
President-elect Barrow responded, telling reporters, “The outgoing president has no constitutional authority to reject the result of the election and order for fresh elections to be held,” Reuters reports. “I urge him to change his current position and accept the verdict of the people in good faith for the sake of the Gambia, our homeland, whose people deserve peace and freedom and prosperity,” he added to The Associated Press.
The U.S. joined international bodies in condemning the announcement.
“This action is a reprehensible and unacceptable breach of faith with the people of The Gambia and an egregious attempt to undermine a credible election process and remain in power illegitimately,” State Department spokesman Mark C. Toner said in a press release.
The Economic Community of West African States, the U.N. and African Union echoed the sentiment in a joint statement:
“They call on the government of The Gambia to abide by its constitutional responsibilities and international obligations. It is fundamental that the verdict of the ballots should be respected, and that the security of the president -elect Adama Barrow, and that of all Gambian citizen be fully ensured.”
Wire services report the streets of the capital Banjul were calm Saturday, with a heavy presence of police and soldiers. Gambians closed down shops and stayed home out of fear of violence.
Human rights groups have criticized Jammeh for abuses during his 22-year rule. In its 2016 report, Human Rights Watch said his government “frequently committed serious human rights violations including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and torture against those who voiced opposition to the government,” creating “a climate of fear within Gambia.”
On Saturday, the organization retweeted a statement from deputy program director Babatunde Olugboji saying they were “deeply concerned.”
Diplomats told Reuters that it’s unclear what international organizations plan to do, but there is a precedent for military intervention. In 1981, they note, the surrounding country of Senegal sent in troops to stop a coup in Gambia.
Opposition leader Mai Ahmad Fatty urged calm. “We are working round the clock to restore sanity,” he told the AP. “We have the full support of our people. The world is with us.”