Adama Barrow was declared the winner of the Gambia’s presidential election by the electoral commission on Sunday, winning a second term in the small West African nation.
Commission chairman Alieu Momarr Njai declared Barrow the winner and announced the final results to reporters hours after rival candidates challenged the partial results that gave him a dominant advantage.
Saturday’s elections, the first since former dictator Yahya Jammeh fled into exile, are seen as crucial for the young democracy.
Earlier Sunday, Ernest Bai Koroma, head of an electoral observation mission for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), appealed to all candidates “to accept the election result in good faith.”
“There will be no winner or loser, but only one winner, the people of The Gambia,” he said in his statement.
Before full results were announced, three of Barrow’s rival candidates had rejected partial results that gave the incumbent president an early advantage.
“At this stage we reject the results announced so far” by the electoral commission, his main rival Ousainou Darboe and two other candidates said in a joint statement. “All actions are on the table.”
However, some of Barrow’s supporters were already beginning to celebrate victory in the streets of the capital, Banjul.
It was Barrow who defeated Jammeh five years ago. These elections are being watched closely as a test of the democratic transition in The Gambia, where Jammeh ruled for 22 years after taking power in a bloodless coup in 1994.
Jammeh was forced into exile in Equatorial Guinea in January 2017 after Barrow, then a relative unknown, defeated him at the polls.
Barrow, 56, faced five contenders in his re-election bid and the vote count was slow in part due to the country’s unusual voting system.
Illiteracy is rampant in The Gambia, which is why voters cast their vote by dropping a marble into a tub marked with the color and photograph of their candidate, a practice that dates back to the country’s past as a British colony.
Many of the roughly one million eligible voters in the nation of more than two million people expect an improvement in their living standards.
The Gambia, a strip of land about 480 kilometers (300 miles) long surrounded by Senegal, is one of the poorest countries in the world.
About half the population lives on less than $ 1.90 a day, says the World Bank.
The tourism-dependent economy was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Barrow executed a continuity ticket, noting the completed infrastructure projects under his supervision, as well as the increase in civil liberties.
His main rival, Darboe, is a veteran politician, a lawyer who has represented opponents of Jammeh and who ran for president several times against the former dictator.
He served as Foreign Minister and then Vice Chairman of Barrow before resigning in 2019.
Legacy of Jammeh
Jammeh lost to Barrow in the 2016 elections, but had to be ousted by military intervention by other West African states.
Barrow himself has already retracted his promise to stay in power for just three years, and has weakened the rhetoric about prosecutions for crimes committed under Jammeh.
Questions about Jammeh’s continuing role in politics and his possible return from exile were central issues in the run-up to the elections.
In September, Barrow’s NPP party announced a pact with Jammeh’s APRC, a controversial move that was seen as an electoral ploy.
Jammeh said the decision was made without his knowledge and that his supporters were a rival party. But human rights groups fear the pact will diminish the chances of a trial.
The former dictator retains significant political support in The Gambia and has sought to influence the vote, remotely targeting demonstrations by supporters during the campaign period.
A truth commission created by Barrow to investigate alleged abuses under the Jammeh government heard testimony from hundreds of witnesses about state-sanctioned death squads, witch hunts, and forced false cures on AIDS patients.
The commission recommended in November that the government pursue criminal charges, in a final report delivered to Barrow but not released to the public.