Gambians on Thursday started lining up at polling stations to elect a president, in polls that for the first time pose a serious challenge to President Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year-rule.
The former army colonel, who came to power during a 1994 military coup and rules the Islamic Republic with an iron fist, is running for a fifth five-year term against two other candidates.
Jammeh’s main rival is Adama Barrow, who has the support of seven political parties and is popular with the small West African nation’s largely unemployed youth.
The poverty-stricken nation is largely dependent on peanut exports.
Also in the running is Mama Kandeh, 51, the leader of the Gambia Democratic Congress, the only opposition party that did not join forces with Barrow.
All three candidates were born in the same year, 1965.
Report says roughly 887,000 Gambians out of a population of 1.9 million people are eligible to cast their vote at one of the 1,422 polling stations until 1700 GMT.
However they will vote in an atmosphere of repression and fear after campaigning was overshadowed by arbitrary arrests and torture of dozens of opposition activists.
The European Union was denied a request to send election monitors to observe this year’s polls.
An African Union observer mission has, however, been accredited.
The election is won by a simple majority, while results are expected on Friday.
Ahead of the election, Gambian authorities have blocked the internet and other communication networks.
In response to blocks on the internet and other communications networks in Gambia amid today’s presidential election, Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa said:
“This is an unjustified and crude attack on the right to freedom of expression in Gambia, with mobile internet services and text messaging cut off on polling day,”
“Shutting down these communication networks shatters the illusion of freedom that had emerged during the two weeks period of the electoral campaign, when restrictions appeared to have been eased. This alarming move suggests a return to repression and censorship that has been the hallmark of President Jammeh’s 22-year rule.”
“Blocks on the internet and other communications networks amount to a flagrant violation of the right to freedom of expression and access to information. The same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.”