Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has said that troops from the sub-region have been placed on standby to intervene in The Gambia if President Yahya Jammeh refuses to step down next month.
Jammeh initially accepted defeat in the 1st December 2016 poll, but later said it was flawed.
Chairman of the ECOWAS commission, Marcel Alain de Souza, said Senegal had been chosen to lead operations “to restore the people’s wishes” if needed.
President Jammeh has already said he will not be intimidated, insisting that ECOWAS had no authority to interfere in the internal affairs of his country.
Jammeh, who has ruled the west African nation for 22 years, has lodged a case before the Supreme Court to annul The Gambian presidential election after the electoral commission changed some results.
The commission insists the outcome was not affected by an initial error and that opposition leader, Adama Barrow, won the poll and should be inaugurated on 19th January.
De Souza said Jammeh had until that date to comply with ECOWAS mediators.
“If he is not going, we have stand-by forces already alerted and these stand-by forces have to be able to intervene to restore the people’s wish,” he said.
The Gambia, a former British colony, is surrounded on three sides by Senegal.
“Senegal has been selected by its peers to lead the operations but we do not wish to start a conflict,” De Souza said.
“If he loves his people, he has to be able to negotiate an exit door calmly. If it doesn’t happen, the most radical means, military intervention, will be used.”
Jammeh’s defiant comments earlier this week made it clear that Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, who was appointed by ECOWAS as chief mediator in the crisis, has a fine line to tread.
Jammeh said that although he was a “man of peace”, that did not mean he would not defend himself and the country “courageously, patriotically and win”.
The stalemate is already taking a huge toll on the economy of the small West African country, which is popular with tourists, with the Chamber of Commerce saying businesses have been badly affected.
The Supreme Court says it will hear a case brought by president Jammeh’s party to cancel the result on 10th January.
President Jammeh, 51, seized power in 1994 and has been accused of human rights abuses, although he has held regular elections. The Gambia has not had a smooth transfer of power since independence from Britain in 1965.
Results were revised by the electoral commission on 5th December, when it emerged that the ballots for one area had been added incorrectly.
With less than a week to the end of the tenure of President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia, he has put in motion another ploy to extend his stay.
This time, his political party has filed a request with the Supreme Court for an injunction aimed at blocking the swearing in of his rival, Adama Barrow, who won the 1 December election.
The petition was filed on Thursday.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle, confirmed receipt of the petition, which was filed by Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC).
“It was filed today with the court registrar,” said Fagbenle, who did not say when a decision on the petition might be made.
Barrow, who won the poll and has received the support of the international community, has said he will go ahead with his inauguration on the 19th January despite Jammeh’s rejection of the result.
Aziz Bensouda, the secretary general of the Gambia Bar Association, said an injunction would be unconstitutional.
“The inauguration of the president-elect should be held when Jammeh’s term officially ends. The court does not have any mandate to put an inauguration on hold,” he said.
The election defeat of Jammeh, a former coup leader, after 22 years of increasingly authoritarian rule was celebrated across the tiny West African nation, and the incumbent initially accepted the result.
However, in a U-turn a week later that drew international condemnation, he denounced what he claimed was widespread fraud.
The APRC filed a challenge to the poll results, but the Supreme Court was unable to hear the petition on Tuesday after several judges failed to show up.
Fagbenle adjourned the hearing until 16th January. The Supreme Court, which rights campaigners say is heavily influenced by Jammeh, has not sat in over a year. Two chief justices have been dismissed since 2013. One of them was jailed.
The court hired four foreign judges from Nigeria and Sierra Leone to hear Jammeh’s appeal. Legal sources said this week that the judges had not yet arrived in Gambia.
Regional bloc ECOWAS has sought to negotiate Jammeh’s peaceful departure and Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari is leading a mediation mission to Gambia today.
However, ECOWAS has also hinted at possible military action if he stays beyond the end of his term in office next week, raising the prospect of violence.
The U.S. Department of State, which has already advised against travel to Gambia, warned American citizens on Thursday to avoid the capital Banjul’s city centre. Embassy staff were required to be off the streets by 6 p.m. (1800 GMT) until further notice.
The question of whether Gambia can install opposition figure Adama Barrow as president is seen as a test case for African democracy.