Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh said neither an election nor a coup could remove him from power, adding that it would take divine intervention for him to leave the post he has held for 17 years.
The small West African nation will hold presidential elections on November 24, and Jammeh’s comments will do little to ease charges from rights advocates who call him an erratic strongman with little regard for democracy or human rights.
“Elections will not make me lose power nor will military coups make me lose grip of power,” Jammeh said at a rally at Brikamaba, 300 km (180 miles) east of Banjul, Reuters reports.
“It is only the Almighty Allah who made it possible for me to come to power in 1994 … who can make this possible. So if anybody thinks that the opposition are going to win the forthcoming elections, (it is a) daydream,” he added.
Opposition parties complain that the election commission has not set aside enough time or media space for them to campaign across the country, which Jammeh has ruled harshly since he came to power in a 1994 coup.
Since Jammeh came to power, Gambia has been relatively stable and has become a popular tourist destination, especially for British holiday-makers seeking sunshine and white sand beaches.
But he has been accused of seeking to muzzle the media and threatening human rights groups.
He has jailed several members of his inner circle in recent years for allegedly plotting to overthrow him and earned international notoriety in 2007 by claiming he could cure HIV/AIDS with herbs that worked only on Thursdays.
Having already won three elections, Jammeh has said he will stand for re-election in the November poll.
Several of those lining up to challenge him in the election have complained about the election commission’s decision to slash the election campaigning period to 11 days, from about three weeks in the past.
“We feel that the period is too short and inadequate, and we hope that something will be done about it,” said Ousainou Darboe, leader of the main opposition United Democratic Party.
Hamat Bah, leader of the opposition National Reconciliation Party (NRP), said the number of days allocated is “grossly insufficient” and complained that Jammeh’s rivals were not being given enough access to public media.
“President Jammeh is already campaigning through the public media, when we the opposition are not given access,” he added.
Gambia is a slither of land surrounded by Senegal, with which Jammeh has had a prickly relationship due to accusations that he backs Senegalese rebels.