Gambia blocked international calls, internet and demonstrations as the nation went into presidential poll on Thursday, fueling fears of violence and election fraud days after President Yahya Jammeh vowed to crush any demonstrations after the poll.
Jammeh faces the sternest opposition since he took over power in a military coup in 1994, after a coalition of opposition parties joined hands to support Adama Barrow, a businessman based in the capital, Banjul.
“This election comes at a very tense moment. There’s a strong atmosphere and demonstrations,” The Guardian quoted Momodou Bah, president of ProGambia, a team of volunteer election observers.
At least 900,000 people were eligible to vote in a unique system that involves placing a marble in a coloured drum that represents their chosen candidate.
Human rights defendants called on the government, considered one of the most repressive on the continent, to respect the election outcome.
The government also barred observers from the European Union (EU) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to oversee the elections.
Security forces undertook a crackdown on the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), arrested over 90 activists among them Solo Sandeng, who died after being tortured while in custody, in Jammeh’s efforts to cling onto power by weakening his fiercest threat since 1994, according to Human Rights Watch.
Jammeh, who has controversially threatened to behead gay people and forcibly rounded HIV/AIDs-infected people claiming to cure the terminal illness in the past, saw an increase in dissent against his leadership prior to the election.
Large crowds attended opposition rallies, as women, children and imams joined in the growing rebellion, unlike in the past where Jammeh enjoyed massive support against a weak opposition.
Observers have been unable to track the 1,400 polling station following the internet black-out, as they planned to get results through WhatsApp.
The internet shut-down is likely to end on Sunday, in a move that activists said was a deliberate effort by Jammeh’s government to stifle information sharing, a move adopted by other African governments to stifle opposition, this year.
Uganda shut down internet in February ahead of presidential elections won by the incumbent Yoweri Museveni, while Gabon imposed a 12-hour internet curfew in September, as election tension gripped the country following the disputed re-election of President Ali Bongo.
Repression of freedoms and a struggling economy that mainly depends on tourism and agriculture, has forced at least 10,000 Gambians to flee the West African nation across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe this year, Deutsche Welle reported.