DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Gambia's election chief has fled the country because of the growing threats made since he declared longtime ruler Yahya Jammeh had lost last month's presidential election, relatives said Wednesday.
Family members told The Associated Press that Independent Electoral Commission chairman Alieu Momarr Njai has gone to neighboring Senegal, as the political standoff deepens between Jammeh and President-elect Adama Barrow.
Jammeh initially accepted defeat after more than 22 years in power, only to change his mind a week later. Jammeh says voting irregularities in the Dec. 1 ballot affected the outcome, and his party is challenging the results in court. Meanwhile, Barrow says he is planning a Jan. 19 inauguration.
The political crisis in this tiny country has prompted the West African regional bloc to consider using military force if Jammeh, who has said that "only Allah" can deny him victory, continues to stay in power.
The election chief has maintained that the "election results were correct; nothing will change that."
In his New Year's address, Jammeh renewed his criticism of Njai. "My suspicion of the IEC chairman and the falsification of the results arose. I will not tolerate anyone to cheat me," he said.
Critics say thousands of Gambians have fled persecution abroad during Jammeh's rule, and an untold number of political dissidents have been jailed and killed. Many live in Senegal, which almost completely surrounds Gambia.
In another sign Jammeh is seeking to tighten his hold on power, the army chief of staff has pledged his allegiance to the incumbent, according to a pro-government newspaper.
"May I please seize this opportunity to renew to your Excellency the assurance of the unflinching loyalty and support of the Gambia Armed Forces," Ousman Badgie wrote in a letter published by the Daily Observer.