BANJUL, Gambia (AP) _ Sir Dawda Jawara, leader of Gambia since British colonial rule ended in 1965, was elected president for the fourth time by a wide majority, the Interior Ministry announced Thursday.

With more than half the constituencies reporting, Jawara received more than 61 percent of the votes cast in Wednesday's general elections, it said.

His strongest rival, Sherif Mustapha Dibba, leader of the National Convention Party, received 25 percent. A third candidate, Assan Musa Camara of the Gambia People's Party, polled about 14 percent.

According to the preliminary results, Jawara's ruling Progressive People's Party won at least 20 of the 36 seats in Parliament. The National Convention Party won one seat, and the results in 15 constituencies were still to be declared.

Gambia, with only 700,000 inhabitants, one of Africa's smallest countries. It is an English-speaking enclave in larger, French-speaking Senegal.

It is also one of the few Western-style, multiparty democracies in Africa. In 1981, Jawara called in Senegalese troops to defeat a bloody coup attempt by self-styled Marxists. Senegalese troops remain in the country to ensure public order under the terms of the 5-year-old Senegambia Confederation.

The main issue in the elections was Jawara's pragmatic attitude to the confederation. Musa Camara accused him of not putting it fully into force, while Dibba called for its abolition.