BANJUL, Gambia – Election officials began counting the floor on Saturday in The Gambia after polls closed in the country’s first presidential election in decades that does not include former dictator Yahya Jammeh, a milestone seen as a test of democracy in this West African country.
Long lines of Gambians have come to vote to exercise their democratic rights as demands for justice in the post-Jammeh era increase. Nearly a million registered voters had to drop marbles in one of six bins, each decorated with the face and name of a candidate.
Candidates include incumbent President Adama Barrow, who defeated Jammeh in 2016 as leader of the opposition.
Barrow’s challengers are former mentor and opposition leader Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party; Mama Kandeh of the Democratic Congress of The Gambia; Halifa Sallah of the People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism; Abdoulie Ebrima Jammeh of the National Unity Party; and Essa Mbye Faal, former senior lawyer for the Gambia Truth Commission, who was running as an independent.
“We will never lose this election,” Barrow said after voting in Banjul. âI am a leader who is focused on development, and that development will continue in this country. I know that in the next 24 hours my people will be celebrating in the streets. “
Barrow stressed that the Independent Election Commission must remain impartial.
Darboe voted in Fajara, a district of Bakau, near the capital, using a walker because of health concerns. Flanked by a huge escort, including his wives, he added his voice to calls for peaceful elections.
“We all win if there are peaceful elections,” he said.
Independent Election Commission chairman Musa Mbye told The Associated Press that there were no major problems during the vote. IEC President Alieu Mommar Njie said the election results would be announced by Monday.
After the polls closed, several officials began the count by placing the marbles on wooden planks to score 100 to 200 votes per plank. Representatives of political parties and heads of polling stations also approve the vote count. This year, it will also be integrated into an application developed for monitoring elections in The Gambia, aptly called Marble.
All the presidential candidates have pledged to strengthen the tourism-dependent country’s economy amid the coronavirus pandemic so that fewer Gambians feel pressured to travel the dangerous migratory route to Europe.
While the 2016 elections that ousted Jammeh from power after 22 years saw Gambians go from fear to elation, many are still not happy with the progress the nation is making.
âSince President Barrow came to power, food prices have been rising steadily. The average Gambian lives in poverty, so we want a candidate elected to solve this problem, âsaid Kebba Gaye, 23, in the town of Wellingara. âWe young people want to elect a leader who will respect and value our votes. A leader who will create jobs for us.
In a nearby neighborhood, Marietou Bojang, 24, recognized the need for change, saying people did not have enough to eat.
âI vote because I and other women suffer in silence. A bag of rice has increased dramatically, âshe told the AP, adding that not enough had been done to fight corruption.
Many Gambians want to be confident that the new rulers will lead the small West African nation of about 2.4 million people to peace and justice.
Jammeh, who seized power in 1994 in a bloodless coup, was removed from office in 2016. After initially agreeing to step down, Jammeh resisted and a six-week crisis saw the neighboring West African countries prepare to send troops to organize an army. intervention. Jammeh was forced into exile and fled to Equatorial Guinea.
Jammeh’s two decades of rule were marked by arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and summary executions that were revealed by dramatic testimony during the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission hearings that lasted for years.
Last week, the commission delivered its 17-volume report to President Barrow, urging him to ensure that perpetrators of human rights violations are prosecuted. Barrow said he would.
Yet many Gambians feel betrayed after Barrow’s National People’s Party struck a deal with the top figures of the former ruling party, despite Jammeh’s split from that party.
Ties with Jammeh are not just a problem for the current president. Opposition candidate Kandeh was backed by a dissident political faction that Jammeh formed during his exile in Equatorial Guinea. While Kandeh has remained silent about Jammeh’s possible return to The Gambia, his allies say unequivocally that Jammeh will return if they emerge victorious in the elections.
Among the other candidates, Sallah and Darboe are established politicians, but they face the challenges of newcomers Faal and Ebrima Jammeh, who are making waves in urban areas.