Gamblers vote with marbles in the crucial stability test

People shop at a street market before the presidential election in Banjul
People shop at a street market ahead of the presidential election in Banjul, Gambia, December 3, 2021. REUTERS / Zohra Bensemra

December 4, 2021

By Pap Saine and Bate Felix

BANJUL (Reuters) – Gambians will vote on Saturday using a unique voting system, marbles are dropped into each candidate’s ballot drum, in a contested presidential election closely will examine stability and democratic progress in the small West African country.

Nearly 1 million out of 2.5 million people are registered to vote in the continent’s smallest country. Voter turnout is expected to be high, according to election officials.

Mamadou A. Barry, a returning officer with the Independent Election Commission (IEC), said: “The number of people registered is much higher than in the previous election.

Barry said Gambians understood the process of using glass marbles to vote. This system was introduced in the 1960s to avoid spoiled ballots in a country with a high illiteracy rate.

“Each voter gets one marble,” he said. “I think it is transparent and fair.”

Results are expected on Sunday under the simple majority system.

This is the Gambia’s first democratic election since former President Yahya Jammeh was voted out of office in 2016.

Jammeh, who was defeated by an opposition coalition supporting incumbent President Adama Barrow, fled to Equatorial Guinea in 2017 after refusing to accept defeat.

Barrow, a 56-year-old former security guard and real estate developer, will face five challengers including his former political adviser, Ousainou Darboe, 73.

Other candidates in the tight race include Essa Mbye Faal, who served as chief counsel to the Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Compensation Commission, which documented abuses of power by Jammeh and Mama. Kandeh, who came in third in the 2016 poll and is currently backed by Jammeh.

On Thursday night as the campaign ended, hundreds of jubilant Barrow supporters gathered in downtown Banjul for one last rally, hoping that another Barrow term would ensure stability as The Gambia seeks to stand firmly behind Jammeh’s 22 years of autocratic rule.

Private security guard Fodey Kassama, 33, says that under Barrow, gamblers have been able to talk freely without fear of being arrested, while the economy has improved.

“In 2016, I didn’t earn much. A little less than $50, now I make up to $200 a month,” he said.

Barrow, who has made lavish promises throughout the campaign, told the cheery crowd that he plans to introduce health insurance that will allow access to treatment with no upfront payment.

However, his critics say Barrow broke his promise, pointing to how he reverted to his pledge to serve just three years after winning in 2016. Barrow has argued that the constitution required him to serve a full term of 5 years.

Barrow’s main challenger, Darboe, told supporters on Thursday that he intends to work towards reconciling the Gambians and bringing justice to those who suffer under the rule. by Jammeh.

(Reporting by Pap Saine and Bate Felix; Editing by Sandra Maler) Gamblers vote with marbles in the crucial stability test


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