Gambia holds local government elections amid boycott

Gambians queued up in long lines in the capital Banjul to cast their ballot by dropping a glass marble into a coloured drum representing their candidate, a system chosen because of the west African country's high illiteracy rate.

Each marble strikes a bell that sounds loudly, to prevent multiple voting.

The polls have been scrapped in 68 of the 114 electoral wards held by the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction after opposition parties pulled out, claiming that the vote would be rigged.

"I am here to exercise my democratic right despite yet another opposition boycott. Gambians are fed up with the opposition who only cry foul when it is election time," civil servant Fatou Kinteh said.

Ahead of the election, the chair of the country's Independent Electoral Commission, Muspaha Carayol, urged all Gambians to "denounce any action that is opposed to the progress of this nation and to resist any attempt by any person to lure us into tribal, religious or ethnic considerations" during the vote.

Observers from several diplomatic missions in Banjul, including the British and US embassies, were seen at various polling stations.

Iron-fist rule
While six opposition parties are boycotting the elections, one opposition leader, Hamat Bah, rejected the boycott call, saying his party did not believe in it.

Gambia, one of Africa's smallest and poorest countries with a population of about 1.7-million, has been ruled with an iron fist by President Yahya Jammeh since he came to power in a bloodless coup in July 1994.

Jammeh, who claims he can cure Aids, is often pilloried for rights abuses and the muzzling of journalists. Despite the criticism, he enjoys strong support for overseeing strong economic growth and building roads, schools and hospitals.

In a country where half the population is illiterate and 67% of people live on less than $1.25 a day, Jammeh has also won votes in the past by threatening to isolate regions that do not support him. – AFP

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