Five candidates are in the run for the top post in the West African nation, where dictator Yahya Jammeh ruled for 22 years.

Political veteran Ousainou Darboe is considered the leading opposition candidate.
Political veteran Ousainou Darboe is considered the leading opposition candidate. (Reuters)

Polls have closed in Gambia after citizens cast their vote in a tightly fought presidential election that will test stability and democratic progress.

Saturday's election is Gambia's first since former President Yahya Jammeh was voted out of office in 2016.

Jammeh ruled for 22 years after seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1994.

President Adama Barrow, 56, is running for re-election, and faces five other candidates.

Political veteran Ousainou Darboe is considered the leading opposition candidate. 

The 73-year-old is a lawyer who has represented opponents of Jammeh, and who ran for president against the former dictator several times.

READ MORE: Gambia launches crackdown on protest movement

He also served as foreign minister and then vice president under Barrow, before stepping down in 2019.

Each candidate has their own ballot box at Gambian polls, and voters choose their preferred politician by dropping a marble inside one of the boxes.

The unusual voting method is a response to low literacy rates in the country.

Results are expected by Sunday under the simple majority system, but provisional figures will start trickling in late on Saturday and overnight.

Nearly 1 million people out of a 2.5 million population are registered to vote in mainland Africa's smallest country. 

Significant support for Jammeh

Ex-autocrat Jammeh was forced into exile in Equatorial Guinea in January 2017 after Barrow, then a relative unknown, defeated him at the ballot box.

Questions over Jammeh's continuing role in politics, and his possible return from exile, have been central themes in the run-up to the election.

The 56-year-old former dictator has also sought to influence the vote, calling in to address rallies of supporters during the campaign period.

Jammeh retains significant political support in The Gambia.

READ MORE: Gambian commission urges prosecutions for abuses under Jammeh

Source: TRTWorld and agencies