Gambia set to raise cost of running in 2016 elections

BANJUL (Reuters) - Gambia looks set to raise the cost of running in next year's elections with a new bill that a pro-democracy group says will make it harder for opposition parties to compete against President Yahya Jammeh. Jammeh has frequently been accused of thwarting democracy since he took power in a coup in 1994. He survived a coup attempt this year and has clashed with rights groups and Western nations over his opposition to gay rights, claims to cure HIV and asthma and overall human rights record. Parliament passed a bill on Tuesday requiring presidential candidates to pay 500,000 dalasis (about $12,740). The government said the bill was aimed at ensuring that political parties are organised and well led. "Half a million dalasis is way out of reach for the majority of Gambians, especially the opposition," said Jeggan Grey-Johnson, an analyst for Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa. "It is meant to price ... a majority of the people out." The average annual income in Gambia, one of the world's poorest countries, is around $450. The country relies on tourism but its industry was battered last year by a regional Ebola outbreak even though Gambia did not record a case. Candidates for the national assembly, mayor and ward councillor will also need to pay between $250 and $12,750 under the revised bill that Jammeh is likely to sign into law. An opposition newspaper Foroyaa criticised the bill's like passage in an editorial, saying it does not respect the electoral commission's independence. "Every honest Gambian ... (should) know that the amendment is a threat to the independence of the (Electoral) Commission and a barrier to the democratic and unrestricted participation of the people in electing their representatives," it said. Gambia expelled a European Union diplomat in June. ($1 = 39.04 Gambian Dalasi)