Voters in Burkina Faso cast their ballots to elect a new president for the first time in nearly three decades on Sunday as the West African nation seeks to turn the page on a year marked by turmoil.
Turnout was expected to be high in the election, during which the country’s some 5 million voters will also be asked to choose a new parliament.
"For the first time in 50 years there is an electoral uncertainty... we don't know the winner in advance," said Abdoulaye Soma, the head of the Burkinabe society of constitutional law.
Katerina Vittozzi, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in the capital Ouagadougou, echoed Soma’s comments.
“There certainly is a sense that today will mark for many people the first time they’ve been part of an election that was truly democratic and truly transparent,” she said.
“It’s been a difficult time for many people, the economy’s really suffered in these 12 months of transition and people are really impatient I’d say to have a new president who will bring about changes, especially with regards to the economy.”
Former president Blaise Compaoré was forced to flee the country following mass street protests in October 2014 against his bid to change the constitution to extend his 27-year rule.
A transitional government was put in place until fresh elections could be held.
But the country was plunged into fresh uncertainty in September this year, weeks before a planned October 11 presidential vote, when elite army leaders linked to Compaoré tried to seize power.
Once again angry citizens took to the streets, foiling the military coup. Its leaders were thrown behind bars and the presidential and general elections were re-scheduled for November 29.
Compaoré, 64, a handsome former army officer known as "Beau Blaise", is now exiled in neighbouring Ivory Coast.
He himself took power in 1987 when revolutionary former comrade-in-arms Thomas Sankara – a charismatic African leader who came to be known as "Che Sankara" – was gunned down in a coup Compaoré is now widely believed to have orchestrated.
Sankara put the accent on schools and health and women's rights in a country that is poor even by African standards.
To bolster the legitimacy of the next head of state, members of the interim government have been banned from standing as have all those who backed Compaoré's bid for a third term, as well as members of his Congress for Democracy and Progress party (CDP).
The pro-Compaoré CDP is still fielding candidates in the parliamentary elections and is expected to do well in parts of the country traditionally behind "Beau Blaise".
In the race for the presidency, seven of the 14 contenders were once close to Compaoré, including the two favourites for the job – Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and Zéphirin Diabré.
"I quit state affairs in 1997. I've been through the decontamination chamber!" says Diabré.
Diabré, an economist, opted for an international career but also served at home as minister of economy and finance. He at one point joined the United Nations Development Programme with support from Compaoré.
Kaboré worked side-by-side with Compaoré for 26 years – serving as premier, parliament speaker and CDP party chief – before falling out of favour and quitting the ruling party months before the collapse of the regime.
Kaboré was already crowing victory. "It's going to be a first-round knock-out," he predicted. "The priority is good governance along with justice."
Polls opened at 06:00am (0600 GMT) and close at 6pm (1800 GMT). The electoral commission says provisional results should be known by Monday evening.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2015-11-29