Yahya Jammeh, longtime ruler of The Gambia, has lost the presidential election to the opposition leader, according to the electoral commission.
Adama Barrow’s victory in the West African country may bring to an end Jammeh’s 22-year rule.
Jammeh, who came to power in 1994 as a 29-year-old army officer following a military coup, had won four previous polls.
Barrow received 263,515 votes while Jammeh won 212,099, Alieu Momarr Njai, the electoral commission head, said in the capital Banjul on Friday.
“Having received 263,515 votes of the total votes cast in the election, I hereby declare Adama Barrow duly elected to serve as president of the Republic of Gambia,” Njai said.
Barrow, a former businessman, told Reuters news agency by telephone on Friday he was expecting a phone call from Jammeh conceding defeat.
Many Gambians stayed up all night listening to the radio and tallying results as they were read out constituency by constituency.
News of Barrow’s victory prompted thousands to take to the streets of Banjul in celebration – some on foot while others rode in cars and trucks and on motorbikes – as confused soldiers looked on.
“There will be celebrations, there will be disappointment, but we all know we are all Gambia,” Njai said, calling for peace, tolerance and calm to be respected as it was during campaigning.
Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from Fatick in neighbouring Senegal due to Gambian restrictions, said there was jubilation on the streets following Barrow’s victory.
“For many Gambians, this is the first time that they have voted,” he said. “They have only seen for the last 22 years one ruler. A lot of young people want to see change and a new ruler.
“Adama Barrow represents change; he represents hope for a lot of young Gambians.”
Marbles for ballots
Gambians voted on Thursday by placing marbles into drums marked for each candidate.
Eight opposition parties united behind Barrow and the election campaign period featured large opposition rallies and unprecedented expressions of frustration with Jammeh’s rule.
Still, Jammeh had projected confidence, saying his victory was all but assured by God and predicting “the biggest landslide in the history of the country” after he voted on Thursday.
Defeat and concession from Jammeh would be momentous.