DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Gambia's political crisis spun into deeper uncertainty Tuesday as a court delayed the ruling party's challenge to presidential election results until Monday, three days before the declared winner expects to be inaugurated — and the chief justice said the court likely can't sit until May because it's short of judges.
Meanwhile, Nigeria announced that a West African delegation to Gambia would be pushed back from Wednesday to Friday, as the regional bloc tries to persuade longtime President Yahya Jammeh to step down. Nigeria said the delay was at the "insistence" of Jammeh.
Jammeh initially conceded his loss in the Dec. 1 election, then changed his mind. His party now wants the results thrown out because of alleged irregularities.
While thousands of members of Jammeh's party descended near the courthouse Tuesday, chanting, singing and dancing in anticipation of a ruling, the court case was postponed. The court said neither President-elect Adama Barrow nor the Independent Electoral Commission had been served with the ruling party's petition, and it gave the party until Monday to do so.
The court also does not have enough judges to hear the case. It has been dormant for over a year and has only one sitting judge.
It is not clear what will happen if next week's inauguration goes ahead and the court later rules in favor of Jammeh's party.
Gambia had requested that judges from Nigeria and Sierra Leone sit on the court, but Chief Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle said they have indicated they cannot make it until at least May. He said the court welcomes mediation by ECOWAS and any other way to resolve the dispute.
"The Supreme Court case faced an issue of credibility from the very outset," said Jeffrey Smith, a human rights activist and founding director of Vanguard Africa, a U.S.-based group that worked with Gambia's opposition coalition. "That Jammeh was appointing the same judges who would hear his own court petition is an absolute mockery of justice."
Smith said the inauguration likely will take place, regardless of the court outcome. "The Gambian people have unequivocally spoken, and their will has been admirably backed by ECOWAS, the African Union, the OIC, and the UN," he said.
But a lawyer for Jammeh's Alliance for Patriotic Re-Orientation and Construction party, Edward A. Gomez, said the inauguration should not go forward without the court reviewing the party's petitions.
Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday will lead three West African heads of state to Gambia, the second presidential delegation from the Economic Community of West African States to visit Gambia during the election crisis.
The West African bloc has said it has a military force on standby if Jammeh refuses to cede power when his mandate expires Jan. 19.
Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994 but is accused of gross human rights violations that include arbitrary detentions, torture and the killings of his opponents in this tiny country of 1.9 million people.
An AP reporter in Banjul, Gambia contributed.