CAR defies the odds, holds peaceful poll
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Voting passed peacefully Wednesday in the Central African Republic’s presidential and parliamentary polls, as the country defied international fears of election-related violence in a country wracked by sectarian strife.
Standing patiently in snaking lines outside polling stations, thousands of residents of Central African Republic (CAR) expressed their hopes for a return to stability and constitutional order.
After three years of political turmoil and sectarian violence that has claimed thousands of lives, residents of CAR voted in elections to install a new government to replace the existing transitional administration.
“The national election authority has declared the December 30 elections almost a total success,” said FRANCE 24’s Catherine Norris Trent, reporting from the capital, Bangui. “In doing so, they were jubilant over the lack of any security problems that had been a big fear going into the vote given the violence in recent weeks targeting the electoral process.”
UN peacekeepers, police, armed forces and gendarmerie were deployed across the country for Wednesday’s vote. Five people died in violence in a vote on a referendum earlier this month that was seen as a test for the December 30 national elections.
‘Voting in dignity and peace’
Voters were choosing a president from a list of 30 candidates to replace transitional leader Catherine Samba-Panza, who was put in place in January 2014. More than 1.8 million people were registered to vote at more than 500 polling stations nationwide.
Speaking to reporters shortly after casting her vote in Bangui, Samba-Panza hailed the landmark poll. "Many thought this day, this vote would not be possible for security and organizational reasons. But, you see, we all are voting in dignity and peace and I am proud," she said.
An impoverished former French colony, CAR plunged into turmoil in early 2013, when mainly Muslim rebels from a group called the Seleka seized power in the Christian majority nation, provoking reprisals from the Christian anti-balaka militias. This triggered a cycle of violence that claimed thousands of lives and displaced nearly one-fifth of the country's five million people.
Refugees also gathered in the border town of Garoua Boulai in neighbouring Cameroon Wednesday, where 12,000 have registered to vote, hoping for peace to return so they can go back home to CAR.
Hailing the elections after polls closed Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius commended the mobilisation of people to vote.
"France is confident that Central Africans will get to the end of the process," he said, praising the transitional government.
The head of the African Union Election Observation Mission, Souleymane Ndene Ndiaye, noted a maximum number of people turned out to vote.
"We saw with great happiness that the elections proceeded without problems," he said.
Problems with parliamentary vote
While the much-delayed elections passed largely peacefully, there were a few problems, particularly with the parliamentary elections, with some names of candidates reported missing from ballots.
“In many areas, at least 30 districts, ballot papers for parliamentary elections simply didn’t show up at polling stations. So, there are questions over whether that part of the vote will have to be held again,” explained Norris Trent.
With 30 presidential candidates in the race, experts believe there is likely to be a second round for the presidential vote.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)