Over 880,000 Gambians are eligible to vote for 53 seats in the country's national assembly for the first time since the departure of longtime leader Yahya Jammeh and 22 years of one-party rule.
Gambians headed to the legislative polls on Thursday for the first time since the departure of longtime leader Yahya Jammeh, with multiple parties poised to enter parliament after 22 years of one-party rule.
The first results are expected during the evening and a full set due by late Friday morning.
Several opposition parties united to form a coalition in December to oust Jammeh from power and deliver flag-bearer Adama Barrow victory as the new president.
But internal tensions caused that coalition to break apart, meaning nine parties will run in Thursday's legislative polls including Jammeh's Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) and the strongest traditional opposition force, the United Democratic Party (UDP).
They face a significant threat from the Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC), a youth-led party which did not join the governing coalition, and whose leader Mama Kandeh came third in the presidential poll.
More than 880,000 Gambians are eligible to vote, with the polls open from 8:00am until 5:00pm local time.
Unclear voting pattern
There is no formal opinion polling in the tiny west African nation, making it difficult to establish voting intentions, but the scarcity of APRC rallies, which once dominated every street during campaigning, suggests voters are unlikely to give them the near-total majority of past elections.
There are 53 seats up for grabs in Gambia's National Assembly, five more than in 2012, according to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).
Five extra places are appointed by the president to give a total of 58 seats in the legislative chamber, which was long derided as a rubber stamp for Jammeh's executive orders.
The African Union, the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc, and the European Union have all sent observers to monitor voters casting their ballots with Gambia's unique system, where marbles are dropped into coloured metal barrels representing different candidates.
Dear Gambia,— Jollof Feminist (@TheJamaJack) April 5, 2017
Do it for all of us. Vote PDOIS tomorrow. Please.
Marble drum system
Miroslav Poche, chief EU observer, said that the IEC had showed its impartiality under great pressure by standing up to Jammeh when he lost the vote last year and filed legal action against the body.
"The IEC has proved itself during the December 2016 presidential elections," he said, but added that the marble drum system was a "big challenge" for his technical support team.
3/3 #EU sees #Gambia as an important partner; full-scale observation reflects #EU commitment to fostering further cooperation - @PocheMEP pic.twitter.com/aQ3Zr8y5v2— EU EOM THE GAMBIA (@eueomgambia) April 5, 2017
It is the first time the EU has sent a fully-fledged observer mission to The Gambia, and it has bankrolled the vote at a time when state coffers are almost empty.
West African troops remain on Gambian soil three months after Jammeh's departure, and will stay until Barrow is satisfied security service reforms have removed rogue elements from its ranks.