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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 September 2006, 16:16 GMT 17:16 UK
Q&A: Gambia votes
Picture of the Gambian President Yahya Jammeh at the media centre building in Banjul, Gambia
Poster of President Jammeh in Banjul to mark the AU Summit

Voters in the tiny West African state of Gambia go to the polls on Friday to elect a president for a five-year term.

Voting day in the economically poor and predominantly Muslim country has been brought forward from October so as not to coincide with the holy month of Ramadan.

Who is expected to win?

Tight control over state resources, a divided opposition and a crackdown on critics guarantee that the incumbent, President Yahya Jammeh, will win a third term in office. He first came to power in a 1994 bloodless military coup and won controversial presidential elections in 1996 and 2001.

An opinion poll in August by the private progressiveafricans.com website put him as the clear front-runner with 68% support.

What are the main issues?

The main issues are democracy and stability. Although officially Gambia is a multi-party democracy, President Jammeh's administration has come under increasing criticism for arresting opposition activists.

The opposition is promising respect for human rights and accountability in government. They have also suggested setting limits on the number of terms to which a president can be re-elected.

Gambia has been relatively stable since the coup in 1994. As Africa's smallest country, Gambia has few natural resources and it's economy is highly dependent on peanut exports and tourism.

So will the elections be free and fair?

The opposition and international rights groups are already questioning the fairness of this year's vote. They have accused the government of manipulating the voters' register, as well as harassing opposition leaders.

Since 2004, the government has also increasingly restricted privately-owned media. This month, a senior state TV producer was arrested and sacked for alleged biased coverage of an opposition election campaign rally. Consequently, the private media restrains its reporting, while the state media widely covers the president.

Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres says "repeated attacks on the press and free expression" means polling will be "neither free nor fair".

How does the election system work?

Gambia's president, who is head of both the government and state, is elected by popular vote for unlimited five-year terms. New rules say that any candidate who gets a clear majority, even by a single vote, is the winner. Previous rules demanded a majority of 50 per cent of the vote in the first round.

Gambia's elections are organised an Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), made up of five presidential appointees. The IEC has seen a troubled summer with its chairman sacked and fraud accusations. However, new head Alhagie Mustapha Carrayole says the IEC has put everything in place "for a good election".

The IEC says that out of the country's 1.5 million inhabitants, some 665,903 voters are expected to participate in the elections.

What happened last time?

In the 2001 elections, President Jammeh won with 53% of the votes, putting him some 20,000 votes ahead of his nearest challenger, Ousainou Darbou, who took 33%. Three other opposition candidates got less than 10% of the vote.

Who are the candidates this time?

Three presidential candidates are running. Opposition parties have struggled with internal bickering and fragmentation, and have formed coalitions to back their chosen presidential candidates.

  • President Yahya Jammeh, a career soldier, has survived numerous coup attempts, the most recent in March 2006. His the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) party has close ties with the military and dominates the current National Assembly.

    A former wrestler, President Jammeh has predicted a "comfortable victory" for himself.

    If re-elected, he has pledged to promote private investment, improve food security and safeguard the country's stability.

  • Main opposition candidate Ousainou Darbou, running his second presidential race, is backed by an alliance composed of the United Democratic and National Reconciliation parties (UDP/NRP).

    Mr Darbou studied law in Lagos and Canada and has pledged to overhaul the health and education systems and promote "the rule of law, democracy, human rights and peace".

  • Third candidate Halifa Sallah is a former sociology professor running for the National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD), a four-party opposition group.

    A leading critic of the government, he was expelled from the National Assembly in June 2005 and has repeatedly been arrested.

    He has described the Jammeh government as "a failure" and says the NADD alliance aims to "end to self-perpetuating rule" and ensure sustainable development.

Will there be any observers?

A Commonwealth team has visited Gambia to assess the level of preparedness for the elections, but few international bodies are known to be sending observers.

The West African Civil Society Forum has deployed a team to Gambia that "will assess the capacity and opportunities of civil society" in the country ahead of the forthcoming election.

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) has urged the opposition not to boycott the elections and endanger the "democratisation of the country".

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.




SEE ALSO
Country profile: The Gambia
28 Jul 06 |  Country profiles

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