Polls have closed in The Gambia after citizens cast their vote for president in a tightly fought race seen as a test of democratic progress.
Saturday’s vote was the West African country’s first democratic election since former president Yahya Jammeh was voted out of office in 2016.
Jammeh, who was defeated by an opposition coalition that backed the current president, Adama Barrow, fled to Equatorial Guinea in 2017 after refusing to accept defeat.
The Gambia uses a unique voting system – marbles dropped into each candidate’s ballot drum – to avoid spoiled ballots in a nation with a high illiteracy rate.
Barrow, a 56-year-old former security guard and property developer, cast his vote in Banjul, accompanied by his two wives.
“I’m happy to see a large turnout from Gambian voters,” he said afterwards, adding he was confident of victory.
Results are expected by Sunday under the simple majority system, but provisional figures will start trickling in late on Saturday.
Barrow is facing five rivals including his former political mentor, Ousainou Darboe, 73, who is seen as his main challenger.
There were no reports of disruptions to the vote and Darboe called on his supporters in the tourism-dependent nation to remain calm.
“Remember, we are in the tourism season, the slightest disturbance in this country will drive away all the tourists,” he said.
Smallest mainland African nation
Nearly one million people of a population of 2.5 million are registered to vote in The Gambia, mainland Africa’s smallest country.
Before the polls opened, officials carried the voting drums outside to show the queues of voters that they were empty.
Other candidates included Essa Mbye Faal, who served as chief counsel of The Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission that chronicled the abuses of Jammeh’s rule, and Mama Kandeh, who came third in 2016 and is backed by Jammeh.
As campaigning wrapped up on Thursday, hundreds of jubilant Barrow supporters gathered in downtown Banjul for a final rally, hoping another Barrow term would secure stability as The Gambia seeks to put 22 years of Jammeh rule behind it.
Critics, however, have said Barrow has broken his promises, pointing to how he backtracked on a pledge to serve only three years after winning in 2016. Barrow has argued the constitution requires him to serve out a full five-year term.