Gambians are casting their ballot using a unique voting system, marbles dropped in each candidate’s ballot drum to elect their next president, in a tightly anticipated election seen as a test of the country’s democratic transition and stability.
Each presidential candidate has their own ballot box at Gambian polls, and voters choose their preferred politician by dropping a marble inside one of the boxes.
Gambians are comfortable with the process of using glass marbles to vote, said Mamadou A. Barry, a returning officer at the IEC. The system was introduced in the 1960s to avoid spoilt ballots in a nation with a high illiteracy rate.
“Each voter gets a marble,” he said. “I think it is transparent and fair.”
It is Gambia’s first democratic election since former President Yahya Jammeh was voted out of office in 2016 by an opposition coalition that backed current President Adama Barrow.
His departure to Equatorial Guinea in 2017 ended a 22-year rule marked by a litany of alleged crimes, abuses and financial plunder.
President Adama Barrow, a 56-year-old former security guard and property developer, who seeks re-election, faces a record five other candidates including his former political mentor and veteran, Ousainou Darboe, 73 in what is expected to be a close race.
Barrow’s main challenger, Darboe, told supporters on Thursday that he intended to work towards reconciling Gambians and giving justice to those who suffered under Jammeh’s rule.
Voting began at 08:00 GMT and is set to close at 17:00 GMT. Initial results in the one-round election could be announced as early as Sunday.
This is the first election in many years where voters will cast their ballot without having to worry about being observed, intimidated or arrested after voting.
Nearly 1 million people out of a 2.5 million population are registered to vote in mainland Africa’s smallest country. The Gambia, a sliver of land about 480km (300 miles) long with a coastline of about 60km (37 miles) on the Atlantic Ocean.
A massive turnout was recorded as hundreds of people queued up and waited for the polls to open.
Many voters are hoping for an improvement in their living standards after the tourism-dependent economy was dealt a severe blow by the COVID-19 pandemic.