Election officials struggled Saturday to verify the accuracy of the vote, the last of the country’s national elections, and to draw up the final tally by the Monday deadline, while a coalition of opposition parties threatened mass protests unless results are delivered to them by Sunday.
The 72-year-old President, Yahya Jammeh, who came to power 23 years ago, faces the likely victory of Adama Barrow, the leader of the coalition, according to Gambia’s Provisional Electoral Commission.
An opposition leader said that Gambia’s electoral body had scheduled voting at 5,500 polling stations. But the International Commission of Jurists, a London-based group, which supports democratic processes, estimated that thousands more had to be set up, which would lead to delays.
“It is too much to expect the people to make the transition to democracy in the short space of time,” the group said in a statement.
Analysts say that the tightly contested election could prove critical for Gambia’s transition from dictatorship to democracy. Gambia, which had been ruled by Jammeh since 1994, has undergone a series of military coups, with his authoritarian rule leading to a long-standing reputation for human rights abuses.
Jammeh ended that era on March 1, when he announced that he would concede the election.
On Saturday, it was unclear whether he would defy the constitution to reject the results.
“Unless he wants to provoke riots and put us under external pressure, he should not even consider it,” said a group of independent voters who had gone to vote at the As Weng Tangala polling station in the capital, Banjul.
“We are not going to fear him. We are going to vote for Jammeh and encourage the people of his party to vote for him,” they said.
On Twitter, U.S. Ambassador to Gambia, James A. Durbin, urged the country’s citizens to respect the results.
“Each candidate has their own political views, but the democratic process is about doing what’s right, not for their own advantage,” he said.