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Gambians Vote in Presidential Election

September 27, 1996

BANJUL, Gambia (AP) _ Gambians voted Thursday in presidential elections that will end army rule, but likely do little to encourage democracy in this tiny West African country.

The incumbent, 31-year-old Yahya Jammeh, was favored to win based on name recognition, his party’s dominance of the national media _ and because he barred his most formidable opponents from running.

The 583 polling stations remained open even after the official closing time of 7 p.m. Final results were not expected until Friday.

Although there were no reports of disturbances, the capital of Banjul was unusually tense. Voters said they were nervous about how soldiers would react if Jammeh loses.

Jammeh, a former army captain who seized power in a July 1994 coup, promised a return to civilian rule, then retired from the military so that he could run.

He maintained a ban on all political parties from the time of the coup until last month. Shortly afterward, he banned several specific groups, including three political parties that were part of the government he ousted.

Jammeh’s toughest opponent is considered to be Oussinou Darbo, a prominent lawyer and leader of the United Democratic Party.

The other two candidates _ hotel manager Hamat Bah of the National Reconciliation Party, and Socialist Party leader Sidia Jatta _ were thought to have little chance of winning.

About 450,000 of Gambia’s 1 million people were eligible to vote. Gambia, an 11,000-square-mile sliver of land surrounded by Senegal, gained independence from Britain in 1965. Jawara was its only leader until the 1994 coup.

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