The Gambia goes to the polls on Thursday for the first time since the departure of the country’s longtime leader Yahya Jammeh to vote for members of their one-chamber parliament.
Nine parties will run in Thursday’s legislative polls including Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) and the strongest traditional opposition force, the United Democratic Party (UDP).
In 2012, the then ruling party APRC won 43 out of 53 seats, an election that was largely boycotted by the opposition. One opposition member was elected. Four independent candidates also won seats. The president had the power to select a further five members, which he did.
A coalition was formed by several opposition parties in December to oust Jammeh from power and deliver flagbearer Adama Barrow to victory as the new president.
As the country heads to polls today, cracks in the coalition have been reported and the list of parliamentary candidates shows parties formerly in the coalition vying against each other in various constituencies.
The Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC), a youth-led party which did not join the governing coalition, and whose leader Mama Kandeh came third in the presidential poll are also offering a significant threat to the President’s coalition.
More than 880,000 Gambians are eligible to vote, with the polls open from 8:00am until 5:00pm.
The first results are expected during the evening and a full set due by late morning on Friday.
Gambia’s unique voting system
Marbles are dropped into coloured metal barrels representing different candidates. Each party/candidate competing in an election has a drum painted with its own identifying colours and their party symbol/photograph.
The method was introduced in the early 1960’s to address the high levels of illiteracy in the country.
Any Gambian citizen aged 18 years or older and of sound mind has the right to vote.
Voters, after being issued a marble, proceed to the polling booth to vote.
When a marble is introduced in the drum of the selected party/candidate, by falling, it hits a bell whose sound clearly indicates to the audience in the polling station that a vote was cast.
To prevent hearing other sounds, when sealing the drum, polling officers place sand or sawdust into its bottom. It is also interesting to highlight that, since the sound is like a bell, on Election Day bicycles are banned from the immediate proximity of polling stations.
After the voting process has ended, votes are counted by placing the marbles into special trays (with either 200 or 500 holes), a simple system that allows counting officials to quickly ascertain the number of votes cast in each drum.
The main, obvious, advantages of this unique voting system are that it is simple, affordable and locally-owned. Gambian voters are well acquainted with, and it is reputedly difficult to rig.
The Gambia’s National Assembly is made up of 53 MPs who serve for a five-year term.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has declared that all 53 constituencies will be contested, which is different because initially, 48 were elected by voters while five were appointed by the president.
The IEC has published a list of the 239 candidates contesting seats.