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Polls open in Gambia's first presidential election since dictator's 2017 fall

Polls open in Gambia's first presidential election since dictator's 2017 fall
Gambian President Adama Barrow speaks to media after casting his ballot in the presidential election Saturday in Banjul, Gambia. Gambians went to the polls to vote with five challengers seeking to unseat the incumbent, who is expected to win reelection. Photo by Yusupha Sama/EPA-EFE

Dec. 4 (UPI) -- Polls opened Saturday in Gambia for the first presidential election since the 22-year rule of dictator Yahya Jammeh came to an end in 2017.

President Adama Barrow, 56, is expected to win reelection in Saturday's vote, with opposition votes split between former Vice President Ousainou Darboe, 73, and four other candidates.

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Barrow defeated former President Jammeh in a 2016 plebiscite, but Jammeh refused to concede power until West African leaders threatened military intervention in early 2017. Jammeh, who had been in power since a 1994 coup, has since been living in exile, but has made virtual appearances at campaign events for opposition candidate Mama Kandeh.

Gambians cast their votes by placing marbles in drums bearing the photo of their preferred candidate. The process has been the country's system of voting since it became independent of Britain in 1965.

Barrow had the support of seven political parties when he sought the presidency in 2016, but several of his allies have since deserted him, citing a broken promise to step down after serving three years. Protests broke out in late 2019 and 2020 when Barrow announced he would be serving a full 5-year term and seeking reelection.

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"During the campaign my message has been very clear. I am a leader who is focused on development and this will continue," Barrow said Saturday after casting his ballot in Banjul, the nation's capital. "We are very happy about the voter turnout. People are coming out in large numbers."

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