Saturday’s vote will be closely watched as a test of the country’s democratic transition, where Jameh has ruled for 22 years.
The Gambians are scheduled to vote on Saturday, the first presidential election in the small West African country since the escape of the former dictator Yahya Jameh.
The vote will be closely watched. As a test of the country’s democratic transformation, Jameh reigned for 22 years after seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1994.
The former dictator was forced into exile in Equatorial Guinea in January 2017 because the relatively unknown Adama Barrow defeated him at the ballot box.
President Barrow, 56, is running for re-election and faces five other candidates.
Political veteran Ousainou Darboe is considered the main opposition candidate.
The 73-year-old lawyer has represented Jameh’s opponents and has repeatedly ran for president against the former dictator.
Before leaving office in 2019, he also served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Vice President under Barrow’s leadership.
In this impoverished country with a population of more than 2 million, many voters hope to improve their living standards.
Gambia is a piece of land approximately 480 kilometers (300 miles) long, surrounded by Senegal, and one of the poorest countries in the world.
According to the World Bank, about half of the population lives on less than $1.90 a day.
The economy of the former British colony that relied on tourism has also been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Barrow is running a continuity ticket, pointing out infrastructure projects completed under his supervision and increased civil liberties.
Voting will begin in the Gambia at 0800 GMT and will end at 1700 GMT.
In the Gambia polls, each candidate has his own ballot box, and voters choose their favorite politician by throwing marbles in one of the ballot boxes.
The unusual voting method is a response to the country’s low literacy rate.
The preliminary results of a round of presidential elections may be announced as early as Sunday.
Jame’s political shadow
Questions about Jamme’s continued role in politics and his possible return from exile have been the central theme on the eve of the election.
The 56-year-old former dictator also tried to influence the vote, calling for resolution of supporters’ rallies during the campaign.
Jame retained important political support in the Gambia.
However, another political camp is pushing for criminal charges against Jameh for acts of abuse committed under his rule.
Barrow established a truth committee to investigate suspected abuse after taking office.
Before the hearing in May ended, it heard testimony from hundreds of witnesses concerning state-approved death squads, witch hunts, and forced false treatments for AIDS patients, as well as other abuses.
The committee recommended that the government pursue criminal responsibility in its final report submitted to Barrow in November last year, but it did not disclose it to the public.
The names of the officials suggested to be charged were also not released.
However, given Jame’s followers, criminal charges are politically sensitive.
Although the previous remarks were harsh on Jame, people are increasingly worried about Barrow’s enthusiasm for the prosecution.
For example, in September, Barrow’s NPP party announced an agreement with Jammeh’s APRC—a controversial move that was seen as an election strategy.
Jame said that this decision was made without his knowledge, and his supporters have formed a hostile party. But rights groups worry that the agreement will reduce the chances of trial.