(Bloomberg) -- Gambians will cast marbles on Saturday to determine the winner of the West African nation’s first presidential election since dictator Yahya Jammeh‘s 22-year rule ended.
President Adama Barrow, 56, is expected to win a second term, with the opposition vote set to be split between 73-year-old former Vice President Ousainou Darboe -- a perennial candidate for the top job -- and four other contenders.
The election will be the first in 27 years not to include Jammeh, who Barrow defeated in a 2016 plebiscite after securing the backing of seven political parties. Some of those allies have since deserted him after he reneged on a pledge to step down after three years.
Voters will make their choice by casting a marble into a drum with a candidate’s photo on it -- a system used since the nation gained independence from Britain in 1965. The country has 2.3 million people, about 962,000 of whom are eligible to vote.
The candidate winning the most votes will secure the presidency, with no minimum threshold. Gambia hasn’t seen a smooth transfer of power since gaining independence.
Jammeh, who seized control in a 1994 coup, was forced to leave the country in early 2017 when West African leaders threatened to intervene militarily after he refused to acknowledge election defeat.
Jammeh remains in exile and despite not running this year, he still has political sway. He endorsed Mama Kandeh for the presidency and campaigned for him even though Barrow asked him to not try and influence the election outcome.
In a bid to consolidate political power, Barrow founded the National People’s Party in January and forged a coalition with Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction party in September. The following month Jammeh said he opposed the deal.
The tie-up has raised concerns that Jammeh could avoid prosecution, despite the creation of a commission to demand justice for atrocities committed under his rule. The former leader claimed to be able to cure AIDS and infertility, and bought on Gambia’s international isolation by pledging to kill homosexuals, silencing dissent and withdrawing from the Commonwealth.
Among Gambian’s key concerns are a lack of decent health-care, high living costs and low wages, with some civil servants earning as little as $40 a month.
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