Gambians have been voting in national elections shunned by opposition leaders, who accuse the incumbent president Yahya Jammeh of using state media to unfairly influence the outcome.
Voters queued up in long lines in the capital Banjul to cast their ballot by popping a glass marble into a colored drum representing their candidate, a system used because more than half of Gambia's population of 1.8 million is illiterate.
Gambia's ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APCR) is set to sweep the polls after six out of seven opposition parties announced an election boycott.
Because of the boycott, half of the county's 48 constituencies are unchallenged.
Opposition politicians accused President Jahya Jammeh's party of "an abuse of incumbency". The "complete merger between party and state" had enabled the ruling to monopolize state resources and the media and use it to its "political advantage", they said in a statement.
The opposition groups had unsuccessfully demanded the postponement of Thursday's poll, saying the elections would be unfavorably skewed against them.
The APRC currently holds 47 out of the 53 seats in the assembly, a single-chamber parliament.
"Jammeh and his supporters can continue for the next few years, and I don't see any force in the immediate future that can challenge him," said Heinrich Bergstresser from the German Institute of Global and Area Studies.
In a statement made on the eve of polling day, the West African regional bloc ECOWAS announced it would not monitor Gambia's election because the current situation wasn't conducive to a "free, fair and transparent" poll.
According to the UN, journalists in Gambia live in atmosphere of fear
The bloc also criticized the African Union (AU) for sending monitors to observe the election. Observers from the Commonwealth and the Organisation of Islamic Conference also monitored polling stations.
In a fact-finding mission held before presidential elections in November 2011, ECOWAS, of which Gambia is a member, cited intimidation and an unacceptable level of media control by Jammeh's ruling party.
Jammeh, who says he can cure AIDS, has ruled the tiny West African nation since 1994 when he seized power in a coup. His government has been strongly criticised for human rights abuses, enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, torture and the muzzling of journalists.
The former British colony, which is a slither of land wedged inside Senegal, secures the majority of its revenues from tourism and agriculture.
Author: Asumpta Lattus (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Kate Hairsine / rm