Gambia: Election – Polls Open in First Vote Since Dictatorship

Current leader Adama Barrow is seeking a second term against five challengers after ousting dictator Yahya Jammeh in 2016. Marbles are used to vote for candidates in a first-past-the-post system.

Gambians are casting their ballots on Saturday in their first presidential election since former head of state Yahya Jammeh was ousted from power in 2016 after 22 years.

Jammeh, who ruled the small West African country with an iron fist, fled to Equatorial Guinea after refusing to concede defeat to a coalition led by current president Adama Barrow.

These elections are a test for the country’s young democracy, with five political parties and one independent candidate vying for a five-year term in the State House in the capital, Banjul.

Using marbles to vote

Polls opened in all of the country’s seven regions at 8 a.m. local time (0800 UTC). The 1,554 polling stations will remain open until 5 p.m.

Each candidate has their own ballot box at Gambian polls, and voters choose their preferred politician by dropping a marble inside one of the boxes.

The system was introduced in the 1960s to avoid spoilt ballots due to low literacy rates.

At one polling station in the capital Banjul, election officials carried the voting drums outside to show the long lines of voters they were empty before voting started.

Barrow’s former mentor competes for presidency

The main challenger for Barrow and his National People’s Party (NNP) is his former political mentor, Ousainou Darboe, from the United Democratic Party, who is 73.

Barrow, who has made lavish promises during the campaign, told his supporters this week he planned to introduce health insurance that would grant access to treatment without upfront payments.

Critics, however, say he has broken his promises, pointing to how he backtracked on a pledge to serve only three years after winning in 2016.

Darboe, told supporters on Thursday that he intended to work towards reconciling Gambians and giving justice to those who suffered under Jammeh’s rule.

Last week, the country’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) released a report, calling for the prosecution of those responsible for the atrocities perpetrated during that time.

However, the NPP has entered a partnership with Jammeh’s former party, and many believe that the alliance could jeopardize the implementation of TRRC recommendations.

Reporting from Banjul, DW Correspondent Fred Muvunyi said Barrow has a 50:50 chance of being reelected:

“His campaign says the country’s infrastructure has improved, and people are now free to speak out when they are not happy. But his critics say he did nothing to improve the economy, and young people are frustrated that they can’t get jobs, so it remains to be seen how people will vote today.”

Jammeh attempts a comeback

Jammeh, meanwhile, continues to exert political influence by backing the Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC) party, even addressing their rallies via telephone.

Nearly 1 million people out of a 2.5 million population are registered to vote in mainland Africa’s smallest country.

Turnout is expected to be high, according to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), and results are expected Sunday.

mm/rs (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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