The chair of Gambia’s Independent Electoral Commission told journalists last week that it “hasn’t happened anywhere before” that a president concedes defeat before the results were announced.
“It’s really unique that somebody who has been ruling this country for so long has accepted defeat even before it was announced by the returning officer,” Alieu Momarr Njai added.
Njai’s comment came after President Yahya Jammeh, who has ruled the tiny west African country for 22 years, announced in a televised statement on 2 December that he was accepting his shock election defeat by Adama Barrow.
“I take this opportunity to congratulate Mr Adama for his victory. It’s a clear victory,” President Jammeh told his country.
This was, of course, before Jammeh reversed his position on 8 December and announced that he was rejecting the results.
So was Jammeh really the first long-serving president in the world to (initially) accept an electoral defeat this way? Africa Check decided to investigate.
Examples from Gambia’s next-door neighbour
Africa Check attempted without success to contact Njai for proof of his claim. When we got no response, we started looking through the history books.
In many countries, the speedy acceptance of electoral defeat by an incumbent is common practice. Of course, constitutional term limits mean few countries allow any president to stay in office as long as Jammeh, who seized power in a coup when he was aged 27.
“It has happened elsewhere in the world,” the founder of the WATHI think tank, based in Dakar, told Africa Check. “The closest example is in Senegal in 2012. [Then president] Abdoulaye Wade accepted his defeat. As soon as the first exit polls were published, he called his opponent [Macky Sall] to congratulate him,” Gilles Yabi said.
In the second round of the presidential election, on 12 March 2012, Macky Sall gave a speech in which he said that President Wade, who had spent 12 years in power, had called him to congratulate him the moment the polls emerged.
Wade was not the first to do this in Senegal, however. His predecessor Abdou Diouf had done the same thing in the presidential elections of 2000 won by Wade. Without awaiting the official declaration, Diouf, who had been in power for 19 years, called Wade to congratulate him and sent a note to the media accepting his defeat.
In Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan showed the same response to defeat in 2015, conceding he had lost the election to Muhammadu Buhari, well before this was officially confirmed by the country’s independent electoral commission.
An example from outside Africa is when President Jimmy Carter, a frequent observer of African elections, accepted his own defeat after one term by Ronald Reagan in 1980, an hour before polls on the west coast closed.
Conclusion: Jammeh not only president to concede before full results
Jammeh is not the only long-serving president to have accepted defeat in an election immediately before full official results were announced.
Before him, Abdou Diouf did so in Senegal in 2000 after 19 years in power. And Abdoulaye Wade did the same thing in 2012 after a dozen years as president. Other cases can be found too, in Africa and other parts of the world. The list is not exhaustive.
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