Gambia’s President-elect Adama Barrow said on Saturday that outgoing leader Yahya Jammeh had no authority to reject the results of the Dec. 1 election.
Long-ruling Jammeh had conceded defeat publicly last week after his narrow loss to opposition leader Barrow.
But on Friday he called for another election in the tiny West African country, jeopardizing what was expected to be Gambia’s first democratic transition of power in more than 50 years.
The announcement on state television threw the future of the country of 1.8 million into doubt. The surprise election result that ended Jammeh’s authoritarian 22-year rule had been widely seen as a moment of democratic hope and a chance to end repression in a country known as a police state.
“The outgoing president has no constitutional authority to reject the result of the election and order for fresh elections to be held,” Barrow told reporters in Banjul.
“I open up a channel of communication to convince him to facilitate a smooth transfer of executive powers in the supreme interest of this country,” he said.
The streets of Banjul were calm on Saturday with a strong police presence.
International criticism of Jammeh came in fast. Following the United States and Senegal, the African Union on Saturday weighed in, calling Jammeh’s statement “null and void”. The European Union has also called for a peaceful transfer of power.
The United Nations and African Union have also piled pressure on Jammeh to step aside.
Senegal has called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
But in a sign that early mediation efforts may be floundering, Senegal’s Foreign Minister Mankeur Ndiaye said Gambian authorities had refused entry to the chair of regional body ECOWAS.
“Johnson Sirleaf was supposed to fly in today, but Jammeh said ‘not at the moment,” he said.
The 15-member U.N. Security Council on Saturday condemned the latest statement from Jammeh and called for him to transfer power “without condition and undue delay”. They intend to review the situation on Monday before deciding whether to hold a meeting, diplomats said.
The U.N. and regional body ECOWAS called on the armed forces to stay neutral.
Barrow aides say the head of the army has pledged support to him but Gambians have voiced private concerns that a faction from Jammeh’s Jola ethnic minority might protect him, potentially provoking broader conflict along ethnic lines.