Gambia vote in the first presidential poll since the Yahya Jammeh era
Gambia is holding its first presidential election since former tyrant Yahya Jammeh fled to exile in the West African country.
The election is being widely watched as a test of the country’s democratic transition after Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994 and governed for 22 years.
After being defeated at the vote box by Adama Barrow, a relative unknown at the time, the ex-autocrat was forced into exile in Equatorial Guinea in January 2017.
President Barrow, who is 56 years old, is up for re-election against five other contenders.
Ousainou Darboe, a political veteran, is widely regarded as the major opposition candidate.
The 73-year-old is a lawyer who has represented Jammeh’s opponents and has run for president multiple times against the former dictator.
Before stepping down in 2019, he served as Barrow’s foreign minister and subsequently vice president.
Many voters in the poor country of more than two million people are looking for better living conditions.
The Gambia is a sliver of land roughly 480 kilometers (300 miles) long that is surrounded by Senegal and is one of the world’s poorest countries.
According to the World Bank, half of the population lives on less than $1.90 a day.
The Covid outbreak also wreaked havoc on the former British colony’s tourism-dependent economy.
Barrow is running on a platform of continuity, citing infrastructural projects completed and greater civil liberties as examples.
The Gambia’s polling stations will open at 0800 GMT and close at 1700 GMT.
At Gambian polls, each candidate has their own ballot box, and voters select their chosen politician by dropping a marble into one of the boxes.
The unorthodox voting procedure is a response to the country’s low literacy rates.
In the run-up to the election, questions about Jammeh’s future involvement in politics, as well as his prospective return from exile, have dominated the conversation.
The 56-year-old former tyrant has also attempted to sway the vote by appearing at gatherings of supporters during the campaign.
The former president Jammeh has a sizable political following in the Gambia.
Another political camp is pushing for criminal actions against Jammeh for alleged human rights violations committed while in office.
After becoming president, Barrow established a truth commission to investigate the alleged violations.
Hundreds of witnesses testified alleging state-sanctioned death squads, witch hunts, and pushing fake therapies on AIDS patients, among other abuses, before the hearings finished in May.
In November, the commission recommended that the government pursue criminal charges in a final report that it gave to Barrow without making public.
The names of the authorities who were suggested for charges were also withheld.
However, given Jammeh’s popularity, criminal accusations are politically delicate.
Despite prior language that was harsh on Jammeh, there are mounting doubts about Barrow’s appetite for prosecutions.
For example, in September, Barrow’s NPP announced a deal with Jammeh’s APRC, a controversial move that was seen as an election strategy.
Jammeh claims that the decision was made without his consent, and that his supporters have founded an alternative political party. Rights groups, on the other hand, are concerned that the accord will reduce the possibilities of a trial.