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Gambian leader accused of pricing rivals out of polls

26 June 2015, 10:24

Banjul - Pro-democracy activists have accused Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh of trying to price potential opponents out of the market through astronomical rises in registration fees for presidential elections.

The government has announced plans to charge candidates one million dalasi ($25 000) to run in any future campaigns – 10 000 times the current cost.

The sum would differ from a conventional election deposit in that it would be non-refundable, even upon victory, under a bill being put before parliament.

The government is proposing the same charge for political parties, as well as smaller, but still significant, increases for parliamentary and mayoral elections.

"The proposed amendments are retrogressive and are designed to scuttle the growth of multiparty democracy in the Gambia," said Ousainou Darboe, secretary general of the main opposition United Democratic Party.

Around two thirds of the population of the west African nation live on less than $1.25 a day and would have to spend nothing for more than half a century to be able to afford to run for president.

High levels of illiteracy

Gambia, mainland Africa's smallest country with a population of about 1.7 million, has been ruled with an iron fist by Jammeh since he came to power in a bloodless coup in 1994.

One of the poorest countries in the world, it survives mostly off agriculture and tourism, luring sun-worshipping Europeans to its sweeping, palm-fringed coastline.

Jammeh has woven an aura of mysticism around himself, dressing in billowing white robes, never letting go of his Koran and brooking no dissent.

The former wrestler, who claims he can cure Aids, is often pilloried for rights abuses and the muzzling of journalists. He has threatened to cut off the heads of homosexuals and heaps derision on any criticism from the West.

Jammeh won a landslide re-election to serve a fourth term in 2011 presidential polls slammed by the opposition as bogus and fraudulent, with the next vote expected in 2016.

Due to high levels of illiteracy, voting is through a unique system using glass marbles instead of ballot papers which are placed into a drum coloured to represent each candidate.

The marbles fall into each drum, hitting a bell which sounds loudly, preventing multiple voting.

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