Gambians on Saturday turned out enmasse to vote to choose their president using a unique voting system, where marbles were dropped into the ballot drums of each candidate – an election that is being seen as a test of stability and democracy.
The Gambia is holding its first democratic elections since former President Yahya Jammeh was voted out of office in 2016.
Jammeh, who was defeated by an opposition coalition that backed Adama Barrow in 2017, fled to Equatorial Guinea after refusing to accept defeat.
The 56-year-old former security guard and property developer voted in a crowded polling station in Banjul, accompanied by his two wives.
“I’m happy to see a large turnout from Gambian voters,” he said after voting, adding that he is confident of victory.
Barrow is facing five rivals including his former political mentor, Ousainou Darboe, 73, who is seen as his main challenger.
Darboe called for calm after the vote, urging his supporters in the tourism-dependent nation not to respond to any provocation.
“Remember, we are in the tourism season, the slightest disturbance in this country will drive away all the tourists,” he said.
The Gambia, mainland Africa’s smallest nation, have more than 1 million registered voters out of a total population of 2.5 million. According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), turnout is expected to be high.
Before the polls opened, officials carried the voting drums outside to show the queues of voters that they were empty.
Results are expected by Sunday under the simple majority system.
The other candidates are Essa Mbye Faal, former counsel to Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, which documented abuses committed by Jammeh’s regime, and Mama Kandeh, third in 2016 and backed by Jammeh.
After campaigning ended on Thursday, hundreds of jubilant Barrow supporters gathered in downtown Banjul for a rally, praying for stability as the Gambia seeks to put 22 years of Jammeh rule behind it.
Critics, however, point to how Barrow backtracked from his 2017 pledge to serve only three years after winning. According to Barrow, the constitution requires him to serve a full five-year term.
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