BANJUL, GAMBIA – Voters thronged corners outside polling stations in the Gambia capital on Saturday as the country held a presidential election without a former dictator for the first time in decades. Yahya Jammeh is the candidate.
Polls have opened with high turnout, with many lining up at the capital’s Independence Stadium before sunrise. Nearly 1 million voters are expected to drop marbles into one of six ballot boxes, each emblazoned with a candidate’s face and name.
Candidates include incumbent President Adama Barrow, who defeated Jammeh in 2016 running for office as the candidate of the opposition coalition.
Barrow’s challengers are former adviser and opposition leader Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party; Mama Kandeh of the Democratic Congress of Gambia; Halifa Sallah of the People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism; Abdoulie Ebrima Jammeh of the National Unity Party; and Essa Mbye Faal, former chief adviser to Gambia’s truth commission, who is running on an independent ticket.
Visiting polling stations across the Serrekunda area, Independent Election Commission Chairman Alieu Mommar Njie expressed his satisfaction with the voting process. He said the election results would be announced on Monday.
“There is no system in the world better than ours,” Mommar told reporters.
All presidential candidates have vowed to bolster the country’s tourism-dependent economy in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic so that fewer Gambians feel compelled to take the perilous migration path to Europe. Europe.
While the 2016 elections removed Jammeh from power after 22 years of seeing Gambians go from fear to excitement, many are still dissatisfied with the progress the nation has made.
Kebba Gaye, 23, of the town of Wellingara, said: “Ever since President Barrow came to power, food prices have kept going up. The average Gambian lives in poverty, so we wanted an application. elected to address this issue”. “We young people want to elect a leader who will respect and value our vote. A leader who will create jobs for us (young people), build roads, and building quality hospitals across the country.”
In a nearby neighborhood, Marietou Bojang, 24, agrees on the need for change, saying people don’t have enough to eat.
“I vote because myself and other women are suffering in silence. A bag of rice has increased dramatically,” she told the Associated Press.
She also complained about corruption, saying that not enough was done to solve problems in the government.
Many Gambians want to be sure that new leaders will lead the tiny West African nation of about 2.4 million people toward peace and justice.
Despite Jammeh’s departure, the country continues to suffer the effects of his rule, including abuses of power and money taken from the state coffers.
“As a country, we cannot heal without justice. We cannot have reconciliation without justice,” Gambia Bar Association president Salieu Taal told The Associated Press.
Jammeh left the Gambia in 2017. His two-decade-long rule was marked by arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, and summary executions revealed by dramatic testimony in court papers. The Truth, Reconciliation, and Compensation Committee hearings spanned several years.
Last week, the committee presented the 17-volume report to Chairman Barrow, urging him to live up to expectations in ensuring that human rights abusers are prosecuted. Barrow said he will make sure justice is done.
However, Barrow’s re-election is uncertain as many Gambians feel betrayed after his National People’s Party reached an agreement with leading figures of the former ruling party, despite Jammeh split with that party.
Omar Amadou Jallow, a prominent figure of the People’s Progressive Party, threw his weight behind Barrow.
“Let’s vote and go home peacefully,” he told reporters on Saturday. “This election will be transparent.”
Jallow said party supporters should not fight with each other, urging Gambians to remain open.
“We are equal under the law. This is democracy. We want peace in this country,” he added.
However, the links to Jammeh are not just an issue for the current president. Opposition candidate Kandeh was strongly supported by a separatist political faction that Jammeh formed during his exile in Equatorial Guinea.
While Kandeh has kept quiet about the possibility of Jammeh returning to the Gambia, his allies unequivocally say that Jammeh will return if they win the election.
Jammeh, who took power in 1994 in a bloodless coup, was voted out of office in 2016. After initially agreeing to step down, Jammeh resisted, and the six-week crisis proved. neighboring West African nations prepare to send troops to stage an army. Involvement.
Jammeh was forced into exile and fled to Equatorial Guinea.
Among other candidates, Sallah and Darboe are established politicians, but they face a challenge from newcomers such as Faal and Ebrima Jammeh, who are making waves in the regions. city.
Gamblers, once violent around the polls, worry about a possible confrontation between Barrow and Darboe supporters, as years have seen major divisions between the two leaders who were once close.
Petesch reports from Dakar, Senegal. AP reporter Mustapha Jallow in Banjul contributed.