Jammeh leads in vote tally so far
Banjul - Gambian President Yahya Jammeh headed for a new term on Friday with a partial tally showing he won 77.35% of votes in a poll criticised regionally for intimidation of opposition groups and voters.
Former military coup leader Jammeh's victory is seen by many analysts as a foregone conclusion in a country known for palm-fringed tropical beaches but which is regularly accused by rights groups of repression of dissent and press-muzzling.
"I am confident to win with a landslide majority," the 46-year-old former army coup leader told reporters as he voted in the capital Banjul on Thursday.
"People know what I did for the Gambia for the past 17 years in terms of development. The British who were here for 400 years never did that," he said of Gambia's former colonial ruler whose presence was established in the 16th century.
The early count was released during the night by the Independent Electoral Commission based on a count of 13% of votes. Main opposition leader Ousainou Darboe scored 14.5% and independent candidate Amath Bah was on 8.3%.
Nearly 800 000 voters were registered in a system under which they are given one marble each, which they drop into a drum corresponding to the candidate of their choice. The marble strikes a bell inside the drum, preventing multiple voting.
One of Africa's most controversial rulers, Jammeh announced in 2007 he had a herbal concoction that cured Aids, but only on Thursdays, a claim derided by international health experts.
He declared in July neither a vote nor a coup could oust him, saying he ruled thanks to divine intervention. He has courted controversy with reported threats to human rights groups and a 2008 order for all homosexuals to leave Gambia.
Regional body Ecowas, in an unusually strong criticism of a member state, said on Tuesday it would not send a mission to observe the poll "because the preparations and political environment ... are adjudged by the commission not to be conducive for the conduct of free, fair and transparent polls".
Its fact-finding mission found "an unacceptable level of control of the electronic media by the party in power ... and an opposition and electorate cowed by repression and intimidation".
Supporters of Jammeh point to various development projects undertaken in 17 years since a 1994 coup, while others note the crippling poverty in a country where income per head is around $1 a day.
"I am coming to vote and pray for change because life is very hard," said Binta Jah, a housewife voting in the coastal town of Serekunda.
"The average Gambian cannot afford a bag of rice," she said.