Gambia Counts Marble Votes in 1st Post-Jammeh election

Electoral workers prepare the ballot drums at a polling station in Bakau, Gambia, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. Gambians vote in a historic election that will for the first time not have former dictator Yahya Jammeh, who ruled for 22 years, on the ballot. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Election officials started counting marble votes Saturday in Gambia after the polls closed in the country’s first presidential election in decades that does not include former leader Yahya Jammeh, a milestone seen as a test of democracy in the West African country.

Long lines of Gambians came to vote to exercise their democratic rights as demands for justice in the post-Jammeh era rise. Nearly 1 million registered voters were expected to drop marbles into one of six ballot bins, each adorned with the face and name of a candidate.

The candidates include incumbent President Adama Barrow, who defeated Jammeh in 2016 as an opposition leader.

Barrow’s challengers are former mentor and head opposition leader Ousainou Darboe of the United Democratic Party; Mama Kandeh of Gambia Democratic Congress; Halifa Sallah of People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism; Abdoulie Ebrima Jammeh of the National Unity Party; and Essa Mbye Faal, former lead counsel of Gambia’s truth commission, who was running as an independent.

“We will never lose this election,” Barrow said after voting in Banjul. “I am a leader who is focused on development, and that development will continue in this country. I know in the next 24 hours my people will be celebrating in the streets.”

Barrow stressed the Independent Electoral Commission must remain impartial.

Darboe voted in Fajara, a neighborhood in Bakau, near the capital, using a walker due to health problems. Flanked by a huge escort, including his wives, he added his voice to calls for peaceful elections.

“We all win if there is a peaceful election,” he said.

Independent Electoral Commission presiding officer Musa Mbye told The Associated Press that there were no major problems during the vote. IEC Chair Alieu Mommar Njie said election results would be announced by Monday.

After polls closed, several officials started the counts by laying the marbles on wooden boards to mark 100 to 200 votes per board. Political party representatives and polling station heads also sign off on the vote count. This year, it will also then be put into an app developed for Gambia’s election tracking, aptly called Marble.

All the presidential candidates vowed to strengthen the country’s tourism-dependent economy amid the coronavirus pandemic so fewer Gambians feel compelled to travel the dangerous migration route to Europe.

Meanwhile, according to provisional results from the first few constituencies, Gambian President Adama Barrow had a narrow early lead.