The process is quite transparent and the results will be accepted by everybody, Mr. Alieu Momar Njai told Front Page International, FPI, in Serekunda on Thursday.
The Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) had been visiting several polling stations to assess the voting process.
Polls opened at 8am after IEC staff showed all party agents, observers and journalists present that the ballots were empty before they were sealed. Polling staff have also been busy checking voter cards against their registers and showing voters where to vote.
“The process is going smoothly, the polling staff and all the party representatives are present and they all witnessed the opening of the polls,” Mr. Njai told FPI when he visited the Cinema Plaza in Serekunda where voters were casting their ballots in three polling stations on December 1, 2016.
He said: “They all saw that the ballot boxes are empty and are sealed before voting starts. The process is quite transparent.
“…and the results will be accepted by everybody because nobody can know who voted for whom, nobody can force anyone to vote for [a particular candidate] and as far as we are concerned, so far so good.”
Lamin L. Ceesay, a presiding officer at one of three polling stations at the Cinema Plaza in Serekunda Central, said 556 people are to vote at his polling station. He also said the voting process was going fine and without setbacks.
Satisfied with voting process
Some 886, 578 voters are registered to vote in the 2016 presidential election in 1422 polling stations across the country.
Voters will select one of three candidates as their president: Mr. Yahya Jammeh of the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) who is seeking a fifth term; Mr. Adama Barrow, an independent candidate backed by a coalition of seven opposition parties; and Mr. Mama Kandeh of the newly formed Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC).
At the Cinema Plaza, the first ballot was casted at 8:16 in the morning after polling staff finished preparation (including sealing ballot boxes and checking voters against the voter registration and showing them where to vote) for the polls.
There were minor problems as some voters had faced difficulty knowing at which polling station they should cast their votes as a result of the re-demarcation of some constituencies. Some people were directed to other polling stations nearby.
But party agents Fatou Faye for the Independent Candidate, Seedy Bojang for APRC, and Musa Jatta for GDC – all stationed at the Plaza Centre in Serekunda, said they are satisfied with the voting process so far.
Modou Njie, who voted for the independent candidate Mr. Adama Barrow, said: “It is a pleasure to exercise his constitutional right as a Gambian.
“I voted for Adama Barrow and I hope he will win at the end of the day. Right now voting is the power I have to participate in this democratic process.”
But Adama Faye did not vote. She said she decided not to register for a voter card because the political playing field is not leveled and was upset at the mass arrest of opposition politicians from the United Democratic Party (UDP).
“I was upset during the voter registration when opposition activists, including the leader of the main opposition party [Mr. Ousainou Darboe], were arrested, detained and subsequently charged. So I didn’t bother to register because I believe the process will not be free and fair,” she said.
The UDP leader and 30 other opposition activists are jailed since July after local courts convicted and sentenced them to three years in prison for violating the Public Order Act.
The jailed militants were among those arrested for holding a peaceful protest calling for electoral reform in April and further protests to call for the release of detained protesters. Two activists have since died in state custody.
In his 22-year grip on power, Mr. Jammeh has been accused of rights abuses and cracking down on his opponents. His supporters credit him for bringing “rapid development” especially on infrastructure.
Exactly one month before the polls, the campaign group, Human Rights Watch, accused the Jammeh-led government of presiding over a climate of fear in its report “More Fear Than Fair.”