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Election Polls Close in Gambia

People wait to vote outside a polling station in Serrekunda, southwest the capital Banjul, during the presidential elections, November 24, 2011.

Gambians went to the polls Thursday in an election that is expected to give a fourth term to the incumbent president. Despite alleged voter intimidation at polling stations, the opposition still predicts victory.

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Yahya Jammeh has said that neither election nor coup could remove him as president of Gambia, an office he has held since 1994. Critics say the president has an unfair advantage because of his near-total control of the media and the military.

Opposition candidate Ousainu Darboe decried the large numbers of heavily-armed security forces at polling places on Thursday morning. “That amounts to intimidation because it’s putting people into a state of fear,” he said.

However, the United Democratic Party candidate is encouraged by voter turnout and predicts that he will win with at least 70 percent of the vote.

“Contrary to predictions that there will be voter apathy, people have turned out and that is very encouraging, whichever way they vote. It just shows now that Gambians are now determined to decide the fate of their country,” Darboe stated.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is not convinced that is possible. ECOWAS did not send an observer to the elections, saying that Mr. Jammeh’s re-election is a fore-gone conclusion given his control over the country and an opposition that has submitted to it.

Mustapha Carayol is the chairman of Gambia’s election commission. He says ECOWAS has a secret agenda against the country. “I don’t agree with them because the ground is level. Each party campaigned freely, and there are so many televisions, and there is no intimidation," he explained. "If ECOWAS can observe elections in Sierra Leone, observe elections in Nigeria, in Benin, Togo and all what not, why not the Gambia? What has happened in the Gambia?”

Carayol also said that it is impossible to rig elections in Gambia because, instead of paper ballots, they use a system in which marbles are dropped into drums representing the candidates.

Carayol says results of the presidential election should be known by early Friday.