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Gambia poll ruling to be delayed for many months

BANJUL (Gambia)

The Gambia’s chief Supreme Court justice has dealt a blow to President Yahya Jammeh’s legal challenge against the result of December’s election, saying it will not be heard for several months.

Jammeh’s political party lodged a legal case on his behalf last month aimed at annulling his December 1 election defeat to opponent Adama Barrow, and triggering new elections.

“We can only hear this matter when we have a full bench of the Supreme Court,” Chief Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle said, adding that the extra judges needed to hear the case were not available and could arrive only in May or November.

The Gambia relies on foreign judges, notably from Nigeria, to staff its courts due to a lack of trained professionals in the tiny west African state.

Fagbenle is the panel’s only sitting judge, as the Supreme Court has lain dormant since May 2015.

The chief justice added that he would prefer the country to resolve its political deadlock through the mediation underway by a group of west African leaders, who are attempting to persuade Jammeh to respect the constitution and step aside.

“This is why alternative dispute resolution is important,” he said. “We are now only left with the ECOWAS mediation initiative and the inter-party committee set up by the government to resolve the dispute.”

The inter-party committee is a UN-backed body aimed at resolving arguments between different Gambian political parties.

But Jammeh has made clear he will not go until his complaint is heard.

On December 20, he was broadcast on state television saying “unless the Court decides the case, there will be no inauguration on January 19. And let me see what ECOWAS and those big powers behind them can do.”

Agence France-Presse