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Gambians vote for their parliamentarians in a peaceful election

Visionally challenged Gambian voter Madam Samba

Banjul, 7 April 2017. Elections into Gambia’s 53-seat National Assembly kicked off slowly in a generally peaceful atmosphere on Thursday 6th April 2017 with some 870,000 registered voters casting their ballots in the 1,422 polling stations nationwide.

Prof. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, Head of the ECOWAS 20-member Election Observation Mission, who had visited some 13 polling stations in Central Banjul by 12 noon, expressed his satisfaction with the smooth and peaceful exercise and the commitment of Gambian voters.

Other members of the ECOWAS observation mission are deployed across the country, including the Commissioner for Political Affairs Peace and Security, Mrs. Halima Ahmed, ECOWAS Permanent Representative to the Gambia Ms Vabah Gayflor, the Director of Political Affairs, Dr.Remi Ajibewa and Head of Electoral Division Mr. Francis Oke.

In accordance with the electoral law, polling started at 8 am local time with electoral staff already at the polling centres before 7 am with electoral materials including the polling drums.

A handful of voters and political party agents were already on ground by the time Prof. Afari-Gyan, former Chairman of Ghana’s Electoral Commission, and his team arrived at the Banjul City Council polling stations by 7am.

Prof. Afari-Gyan with Gambia Elecroral Commissioner Jahumpa Jallow and US Amb. to Gambia Patricia Alsup

Polling officials and party agents spoke about low voter turn-out, when compared with the 1st December 2016 Presidential poll, a situation they said had to do with insufficient sensitisation and voter education on the importance of parliamentary and local government elections.

The same trend was reported in many parts of the country with Mr. Joseph Colley, Commissioner for Training and Communication at The Gambia’s Independent Electoral Commission (EIC), saying “it shows that we still have some work to do in terms of civic and voter education.”

But despite the reported low turn-out at the early stage of balloting, ECOWAS observers noted a high sense of duty, enthusiasm and commitment exhibited by some Gambian voters, especially the elderly.

For instance, wheel-chair bound Aji Haddy Secka, 90, was able to cast her vote at the Banjul Mini Stadium polling station assisted by her daughters.

Also, 80-year-old visually challenged Aji Samba was among the 85 of 445 registered voters who had cast their ballots by 11.45 am, when ECOWAS observers visited the Odeon Cinema polling station.

Some 238 candidates from nine political parties and independents are contesting 48 available seats in Gambia’s 53-seat Parliament. The President, under the constitution will appoint the remaining five members.

Gambia’s peculiar voting method involves the use of glass marbles as ballot paper and metal drums as ballot boxes. For the parliamentary polls, the ruling coalition of seven political parties is presenting individual candidates and each party candidate and independent has his/her picture on a metal drum.

On presenting their voter’s card, a registered voter is given a glass marble to cast his/her vote in secret, by throwing the marble in the metal drum, which has sand deposited on the base. The bell-sound of the marble against the drum indicates that voting has taken place. The aim of the sand is to avoid confusion which could arise from multiple sound of the marble against the metal drum and also to avoid fraud.

This was the same system used by the IEC during the 1st December 2016 election that brought President Adama Barrow’s opposition party to power after 22 years of the administration of former President Yahya Jammeh, now exiled in Equatorial Guinea.


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