Gambians go to polls tomorrow

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The 14-day official campaign period ended yesterday, and tomorrow, Thursday 1 December 2016, Gambians will go to polls to elect a president that will preside over the affairs of the country for the next five years. 

The Independent Electoral Commission said there are 886,578 registered voters for this election, and there would be 1,422 polling stations in the 53 constituencies of the country. 

Polls would open at 8am and close at 5pm, but those at the queue at sharp 5pm would be allowed to vote; anyone who comes even a minute after 5pm will not be allowed to vote.

Counting of votes will take place at the polling stations immediately after close of polls, and the people to be allowed in the counting centres include IEC officials, two polling agents per candidate, accredited media practitioners, regional authorities such as governors, National Assembly members, councilors, mayors, chairpersons, seyfolou and alkalolou.

Gambia’s electoral system is based on a simple majority, meaning any of the three candidates who lead the polls by even one vote will be the president-elect. 

Voting is by secret ballot using the marble and drum system, which is unique to The Gambia.

Instead of a ballot form which is used worldwide, voters in The Gambia are given a marble to vote after presenting their biometric voter’s cards bearing their photograph, name, and fingerprint, for scrutiny.

Each of the three presidential candidates has a separate sealed drum identified by his or her photograph with party colour and symbol.

The colour of the ruling APRC is green and its symbol is palm tree.  The opposition coalition is colour grey, and its symbol is right hand with index finger pointing upwards.  The opposition GDC’s colour is purple, and symbol is a calabash.

After giving a marble, voters go in secret, drop their marble through a tube in a drum of their candidate of choice; the marble strikes a bell inside the drum as it falls.  The sound of the bell can be heard clearly even outside the booth.  This arrangement prevents multiple voting as commonly seen in elections in Africa. 

This system, which is said to be tamper-proofed, was invented after many experiments by two colonial officials, Smith and Weston.

In this election, the incumbent president, Yahya Jammeh, is seeking a fifth term of five years.  He first stood for election in 1996 and got 55.77 per cent.  In 2001, he got 52.8 per cent; in 2006 - 67.33 per cent; and in 2011 – 71.54 per cent.

He is facing a fierce contest by the coalition of seven opposition parties and one independent candidate.  The coalition is led by businessman Adama Barrow.

The other contestant is the standard bearer of Gambia Democratic Congress, Mamma Kandeh, who is an ex-parliamentarian for the incumbent party, but later got fired from the party and eventually lost his parliamentary seat. 

As regard international election observers, the European Union has been denied observer status to monitor the election, EU sources said.

Ecowas would not also send observers because their request was received after the deadline, the IEC said.  This is the second time Ecowas will be absent in Gambia’s election; the first one was in 2011.

It would be noted that this is the first time the IEC is doing on-the-spot counting, for which the commission must be commended.