Counting of votes begins in presidential elections in The Gambia with Barrow gaining more weight

The Gambia elections closed after citizens voted for the presidency in a tight competition that was seen as evidence of democratic progress. 

Saturday’s vote marked the West African country’s first democratic election since the outing of former President Yahya Jammeh in 2016, who was defeated by an opposition coalition that backed incumbent President Adama Barrow and fled to Equatorial Guinea in 2017 after refusing to to accept defeat. 

The Gambia uses a unique electoral system (marbles placed on each candidate’s voting drum) to prevent ballot papers from being lost in a country with a high illiteracy rate. 

Barrow, a 56-year-old former security guard and property developer, cast his vote in Banjul with his two wives. He added that he was confident of victory. 

Results are expected on Sunday under the simple majority system, but preliminary numbers will not arrive until late Saturday. 

Barrow faces five rivals, including his former political mentor, 73-year-old Ousainou Darboe, who is believed to be his main rival.

There were no reports of polling breaks and Darboe asked his supporters in the tourism-dependent nation to keep calm: 

“Remember, we are in the tourist season, the slightest disruption in this country will drive away all tourists,” he said. 

The Gambia, the smallest country on mainland Africa, has nearly a million people registered out of a population of 2.5 million. Before the polling stations opened, officials carried the voting drums outside to show voters that they were empty. 

Other candidates included Essa Mbye Faal, who served as senior advisor to the Gambia Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, which reported the abuses of the Jammeh government, and Mama Kandeh, who came third in 2016 and is supported by Jammeh. 

Supporters gathered in central Banjul for a final rally in hopes that another term from Barrow would ensure stability as Gambia seeks to put 22 years of Jammeh rule behind them.

Critics have said that Barrow broke his promises, indicating that he withdrew his promise to serve just three years after his victory in 2016. Barrow has argued that the constitution requires him to serve a full five-year term.

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