On 4 December 2021, Gambians will head to the polls in their first presidential election since the end of Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year dictatorship. Incumbent Adama Barrow, who shockingly defeated Jammeh in 2016 with the backing of seven opposition parties (BBC, 2016), is seeking re-election at the head of his new National People’s Party (Fatty, 2021; Muntagadura, 2021).
The election promises to be intensely competitive in the freer political and media landscape that Gambians have enjoyed under Barrow (Freedom House, 2021; Reporters Without Borders, 2021). In addition to six television stations, Gambians have access to about 40 radio stations, including community radios, as well as several online media houses. The number of registered political parties has doubled since 2016, to 18 (Independent Electoral Commission, 2021). More than half (57%) of registered voters are women, and 58% are youth between the ages of 18 and 35 (Taylor, 2021).
The number of candidates interested in the presidency has also increased significantly: 23 aspirants submitted their nominations to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), although only six candidates were given the green light to contest (Jeune Afrique, 2021). Some of those turned away – for failing to secure 200 votes in some administrative areas or other technical reasons (Cham, 2021) – have filed a petition against the IEC at the High Court (Camara, 2021).
The presidential election will be followed by a National Assembly election in 2022 and local government elections in 2023.
The latest Afrobarometer survey findings show that Gambians overwhelmingly believe in the value of elections and see their most recent national election, the parliamentary election in 2017, as having been generally free and fair. Even so, popular trust in the IEC has declined.