By Alhagie Jobe
Polls have opened in the presidential elections in the small West African nation of The Gambia.
A total of over 880, 000 Gambians are registered to votes in this year’s election in a country of less than 1.5 million people.
There are long voting queues reported in almost all polling station, showing a positive sign of a good turnout. There are no irregularities reported so far and the process is going on smoothly.
Incumbent President Yahya Jammeh who has ruled the tiny West African nation since 1994 is facing perhaps the biggest political challenge throughout his 22 years in power. He is been challenged by Adama Barow who is leading a revitalized and united opposition coalition and Mama Kandeh of the Gambia Democratic Congress who was a former National Assembly member of the ruling Jammeh APRC party.
Thursday’s poll comes at the end of a turbulent year that has given hope to opposition supporters that change may be on the horizon. The build up to Election Day has been very engaging and interactive both in the open and in close doors.
The opposition is banking hopes on a failed Yahya Jammeh presidency to get them power. They have held mammoth rallies buoyed by an ‘unprecedented’ groundswell of support, hoping to put an end to the iron-fisted rule of President Yahya Jammeh.
Long known for his eccentricities, Mr Jammeh, 51, has maintained his control over Gambia in four subsequent elections despite growing international concern over his government’s deteriorating human rights record.
International attention has increasingly focused on the repressive nature of his rule. He has rejected outside criticism and last month announced Gambia’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, a body he says is biased against Africans and which his spokesman dubbed the “International Caucasian Court”.
In April, small protests in Banjul calling for electoral reform led to dozens of arrests and jailed, including Mr Ousainou Darboe, the leader of the main opposition party. Two other UDP members have since died in custody.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday on the eve of the election the government shut down the country’s telecom giant, Gamtel’s international gateway system preventing incoming and outgoing international calls as well as internet services, putting the whole nation incommunicado ahead of Thursday’s polls. As at now, there are no incoming and outgoing calls as well as internet access in the country.
The sub-regional grouping, ECOWAS, has sent a goodwill message to Gambians though it decided not to send observers to the election fearing it will not be transparent. In 2011 presidential elections, ECOWAS boycotted the polls with same reasons.
The European Union has also been rejected to observe today’s polls.
These brings fear that the election might be rigged by Mr Jammeh and Gambians now count on the electoral body (IEC) to ensure a free, fair and transparent election.
Voting closes at 18:00hrs GMT after which countring takes effect. The results are expected early Friday, December 2nd, 2016.