Gambian President Barrow on course for big win: Early results

Gambia’s incumbent president, Adama Barrow, is on course for a resounding election win, partial results have indicated, that could help to draw a line under recent political turmoil.

Saturday’s vote was the first in 27 years without disgraced former president Yahya Jammeh, who lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea after refusing to accept defeat to Barrow in 2016.

Jammeh, whose 22-year rule over the tiny nation of 2.5 million people was characterised by killings and torture of political opponents, had tried to persuade supporters to vote for an opposition coalition in telephoned speeches that were relayed to campaign rallies.

But his lingering influence was not enough to dent Barrow’s showing. The president, who only needs to win more votes than the second-placed candidate, won 36 of the first 41 constituencies announced, taking 315,547 votes.

His nearest rival, political veteran Ousainou Darboe, had 133,177 votes, with four other candidates far behind.

Only 12 constituencies remained to be announced.

Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from the capital Banjul, said the winner will be known before the end of the day.

“A simple majority is enough for any of the six candidates to win,” Idris said.

The election is being closely watched as a test of the democratic transition in The Gambia, where Jammeh ruled for 22 years after seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1994.

Jammeh was forced into exile in Equatorial Guinea in January 2017 after Barrow, then a relative unknown, defeated him at the ballot box.

Barrow, 56, faces five challengers in his re-election bid.

Several factors have slowed the tally, including The Gambia’s scarce financial resources, high turnout and the country’s unusual voting system.

Illiteracy is widespread in The Gambia, so voters cast their ballot by dropping a marble into a tub marked with their candidate’s colour and photo – a practice dating back to the country’s past as a British colony.

Many of the roughly one million eligible voters in the nation of more than two million people are hoping for an improvement in their living standards.

Barrow is running on a continuity ticket, pointing to infrastructure projects completed under his watch, as well as increased civil liberties.

Political veteran Ousainou Darboe is considered by observers to be the leading opposition candidate.

The 73-year-old is a lawyer who has represented opponents of Jammeh, and who ran for president against the former strongman several times.

He also served as foreign minister and then vice president under Barrow, before stepping down in 2019.

Jammeh lost to Barrow in the 2016 election but was only finally removed by military intervention from other west African states.

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