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Tuesday, 21 August, 2001, 21:20 GMT 22:20 UK
Gambia hit by pre-poll fever
Supporters of Gambia's new opposition at launch
Opposition supporters provide colour to the proceedings
By Ebrima Sillah in Banjul

Some of the opposition parties in the Gambia whose ban on participating in politics was lifted in July have launched a coalition at a big rally in Brikama, 300km from the capital, Banjul.

The launch comes amid a charged political atmosphere as politicians criss-cross the country canvassing for the 18 October presidential election.


One enthusiastic female supporter struggled through the crowds and held up a large portrait of Sir Dawda

The new coalition aims to unseat President Yayha Jammeh who came to power in a military coup in 1994, but has since tried to legitimise his rule by holding elections.

One of the parties in the coalition is the Peoples Progressive Party of the man he overthrew, Sir Dawda Jawara. His party had ruled Gambia since independence from Britain in 1965.

Euphoric

The former president, who has been living in exile in Britain, has said he would be returning home to fight the elections.

Supporter of ex-president Jawara with his portrait
An enthusiastic supporter of Sir Dawda

The atmosphere at the weekend's coalition rally was euphoric, with dancing, singing and drumming.

One enthusiastic female supporter of the ex-president struggled through to the centre of the huge crowds and raised up a large portrait of Sir Dawda.

To most people's surprise a number of supporters chased after her bowing in front of the portrait.

Cult following

Observers say this shows that Sir Dawda has a big cult following in the country with his ardent supporters calling for him to return home. It is likely he would come back after the dust has settled.

Still, there are cracks in the political opposition. Four other parties who were expected to join in a united front against Mr Jammeh stayed away claiming the are unhappy with the coalition's choice of leader.

Opposition supporters at Coalition launch in Gambia
Some took up positions on tree tops for a good view

The new opposition flag bearer is lawyer Mr Ousainou Darboe who is a strident critic of Mr Jammeh. His party was not banned and he was able to run for the presidency in the last election.

Already he has come under fire from the country's attorney-general who on Tuesday said Mr Darboe should pay back an estimated $2,000 owed to the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation.

At a press conference Mr Darboe hit back saying the government is making a deliberate attempt to mislead Gambians.

Disqualify

"The government is looking for ways of disqualifying me from the forthcoming election", he said.

One thing is certain, if the opposition parties do not heal the rift in their ranks they will only make Mr Jammeh's re-election a certainty.

If, on the other hand, they presented a united front they might deprive him of the 50% of votes that is constitutionally required for an outright majority.

See also:

09 May 01 | Africa
Timeline: Gambia
11 Apr 00 | Africa
Protests at Gambia killings
18 Jan 00 | Africa
More soldiers arrested in Gambia
04 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Gambia
14 Aug 01 | Africa
Gambia opposition 'not divided'
18 Dec 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
George W's African adventure
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