Following independence in 1965, the Gambia conducted freely-contested elections every five years.
Each election was won by The People’s Progressive Party (PPP), headed by Dawda Jawara. The PPP dominated Gambian politics for nearly 30 years.
After spearheading the movement toward complete independence from Britain, the PPP was voted into power and was never seriously challenged by any opposition party. The last elections under the PPP régime took place in April 1992.
In 1994, following allegations of corruption within the Jawara regime and widespread discontent in the army, a largely bloodless and successful coup d’état installed army lieutenant Yahya Jammeh in power.
Politicians from deposed President Jawara’s PPP and other senior government officials were banned from participating in politics until July 2001. A presidential election took place in September 1996, in which Yahya Jammeh won 56% of the vote.
The legislative elections held in January 1997 were dominated by the APRC, which captured 33 out of 45 seats.
In July 2001 the ban on Jawara-era political parties and politicians was lifted. Four registered opposition parties participated in 18 October 2001 presidential election, which the incumbent, President Yahya Jammeh, won with almost 53% of the votes.
The APRC maintained its strong majority in the National Assembly in legislative elections held in January 2002 particularly after the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) boycotted the legislative elections.
Jammeh won the 2006 election handily after the opposition coalition, the National Alliance for Democracy and Development, had splintered earlier in the year.
The voting was generally regarded as free and fair, though events from the run-up raised criticism from some. A journalist from the state television station assigned to the chief opposition candidate, Ousainou Darboe, was arrested.
Additionally, Jammeh said, “I will develop the areas that vote for me, but if you don’t vote for me, don’t expect anything”.
On 21 and 22 March 2006, amid tensions preceding the 2006 presidential elections, an alleged planned military coup was uncovered. Jammeh immediately returned from a trip to Mauritania, many army officials were arrested, and prominent army officials fled the country.
Some believe that the President fabricated the planned coup for his own purposes, but no proof has been found.
For their roles in an alleged 2009 coup plot, eight Gambians (including the former Chief of Defence Staff of the Gambian Armed Forces, a former head and deputy head of the National Intelligence Agency, and others) were tried for treason, found guilty, and sentenced to death in July 2010.
Before that trial concluded, the former Chief of Defence Staff and the former Chief of the Gambia Naval Staff were charged with treason for their complicity in the failed 2006 coup.
A key prosecution witness, serving a lengthy prison sentence for his role in the 2006 coup plot, received a presidential pardon, apparently in return for his testimony.
The 1970 constitution, which divided the government into independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches, was suspended after the 1994 military coup.
As part of the transition process, the AFPRC established the Constitution Review Commission (CRC) by decree in March 1995. In accordance with the timetable for the transition to a democratically elected government, the CRC drafted a new constitution for the Gambia, which was approved by referendum in August 1996.
The constitution provides for a strong presidential government, a unicameral legislature, an independent judiciary, and the protection of human rights.
In November 2011, elections took place under conditions that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) characterised as “not to be conducive for the conduct of free, fair and transparent polls”. These elections, which were not monitored by ECOWAS, returned Jammeh for another five-year term.
On 22 August 2012 the Gambia announced it would execute all death-row convicts, 42 men and two women, by September 2012. The country had not executed anyone in the previous 30 years. Nine were executed in August 2012.
In December 2014 a failed coup attempt by American-Gambian dual-citizens, including US military veterans, was reported in the Gambia.
On 11 December 2015 Jammeh declared the Gambia an Islamic republic, in a move he said was designed to distance the country further from its colonial past.
The opposition leader criticised the declaration, describing it as unconstitutional. Nevertheless, media outlets in the state began referring to the country as the Islamic Republic of the Gambia.
On 25 October 2016 Jammeh signed a decree to initiate the process of withdrawal from the Rome Statute – which established the International Criminal Court (ICC).
On 1 December 2016, after 22 years of presidency, Jammeh was defeated by Adama Barrow in the presidential election.
After first conceding defeat and announcing he would step down, on 10 December Jammeh declared that he would not accept the results and called for a new election. On 17 January 2017, Jammeh declared a 90-day state of emergency.
In response to that, ECOWAS launched an intervention in the Gambia with the objective of restoring democracy in the country.
On 20 January 2017 Barrow announced that Jammeh had agreed to step down and would leave the country. On the same day the chief of the Gambian Military, Ousman Badjie, pledged his allegiance to Barrow.
On 13 February 2017 Barrow revoked Jammeh’s plan to withdraw from the ICC. Barrow promised to return the Gambia to its membership of the Commonwealth as a Commonwealth republic and on 14 February 2017, The Gambia began the process of returning to its membership of the Commonwealth, formally presenting its application to re-join to Secretary-General Patricia Scotland on 22 January 2018.