Following the departure of their former president, Yahya Jammeh, Gambians reflect on the opportunities ahead.
Voters in The Gambia are casting their ballots in the first election since the departure of long-time leader Yahya Jammeh, with multiple parties poised to enter parliament after 22 years of effective one-party rule.
More than 880,000 Gambians are eligible to vote, with the polling stations open until 17:00 GMT on Thursdy.
Dozens queued early in the morning at roadside polling stations to be among the first to cast their ballots.
“Things are equal, that’s why you have a lot of participants,” Ousman Manneh, 34, an assistant returning officer at a polling station in Bakau, a town not far from The Gambia’s capital, Banjul, told the AFP news agency.
The first results are expected during the evening and a full set on Friday morning.
There are 53 seats up for grabs in The Gambia’s National Assembly, five more than in 2012, according to the Independent Electoral Commission.
Five extra places are to be appointed by President Adama Barrow to give a total of 58 seats in the legislative chamber, which was long derided as a rubberstamp for Jammeh’s executive orders.
“Never has there been so many people wanting a seat in parliament,” Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from Banjul, said.
“Most are young, first-time independent candidates.”
Several opposition parties united to form a coalition in December to oust Jammeh from power and deliver Barrow to victory as the new president.
But internal tensions caused that coalition to break apart, meaning nine parties will run in Thursday’s legislative polls including Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) and the strongest traditional opposition force, the United Democratic Party (UDP).
They face a significant threat from the Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC), a youth-led party which did not join the governing coalition, and whose leader Mama Kandeh came third in the presidential poll.
The African Union, regional ECOWAS bloc and the European Union have all sent observers to monitor voters casting their ballots with The Gambia’s unique system, where marbles are dropped into coloured metal barrels representing different candidates.
Barrow, who won December’s presidential race, was a former UDP treasurer who resigned to run as the candidate of an unprecedented opposition coalition.
After a drawn-out crisis caused by Jammeh’s initial refusal to step down, mediation efforts by west African leaders and the threat of military intervention eventually delivered the country’s first ever democratic transition in January.
Barrow’s cabinet is made up of the heads of seven different political parties, all of which will field candidates in Thursday’s election.