The Gambia: UN envoy says recent elections were free but democracy needs support

6 October 2006

Although the recent presidential election in the Gambia was relatively free and fair, the tiny West African country needs international support to help strengthen its democratic institutions, build up opposition political parties and ensure its media are vigorous, well-trained and independent, the United Nations envoy for the polls said today.

The former Nigerian head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakr, appointed as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Gambia last month, told the UN News Centre that reports of widespread election manipulation were either grossly over-exaggerated or unsubstantiated.

President Yahya Jammeh, who has been in power since 1994, was re-elected on 22 September after winning about two-thirds of the vote, Gen. Abubakr said in an interview, which followed his briefing to Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the elections.

Some opposition presidential candidates have accused the Gambian Government of manipulation during the election campaign, but Gen. Abubakr downplayed those reports and said any inappropriate actions were minor and did not affect the ultimate result.

“There have been a lot of allegations or reports which were over-exaggerated,” he said, noting that independent election observers considered the polling to be largely free and fair and without any foreign interference.

But Gen. Abubakr said voter education was poor and all political parties, especially those in opposition, need help with capacity-building. He also stressed the importance of better training of the media, which he described as “ill-equipped and ill-trained.”

The envoy called on the UN to increase its support of the Gambia’s democratic institutions and noted that the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is examining programmes to boost media training in the Gambia.

 

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