Elections in Central African Republic end without violence as voters seek peace
BANGUI // Presidential and legislative elections in the Central African Republic concluded without violence on Wednesday as voters cast their ballots to seek an end to almost three years of lawlessness.
United Nations peacekeepers helped secure polling stations for the vote which was postponed from Sunday after ballots weren’t distributed. Two earlier deadlines to organise the vote this year were also missed.
Marie-Madeleine Koue, president of the national elections authority, said turnout was expected to be at least 65 per cent.
“People are happy today because there is no gunfire,” said Awa Asta, a voter who lives in the capital’s last remaining Muslim enclave. “All the Muslims in my area have come out to vote so that we will have peace and can move about freely.”
The 41-year-old’s neighbourhood, known as PK5, holds about 15,000 Muslims and is surrounded by hostile militia who have driven out more than 100,000 Muslims from other parts of the city. It’s become a symbol of the sectarian strife in the Central African Republic.
The country has been mired in violence since a 2013 coup that toppled then-president Francois Bozize and enabled armed groups to seize control of the countryside. Thousands have been killed and about a fifth of the population has fled in what the UN describes as a “critical” human-rights situation.
Front-runners among the 30 presidential candidates are two former prime ministers, Anicet-Georges Dologuele and Martin Ziguele. A second round will be held on January 31 if none of the candidates wins a majority.
“There is a lot of expectations for change of governance among the population but the candidates look like old wine in a new bottle, so will they be able to bring real change?” said Thierry Vircoulon, a Central Africa expert who lectures at the Paris School of International Affairs.
The ouster of Mr Bozize by mainly Muslim rebels was marked by widespread killings of civilians, prompting non-Muslims to set up armed groups known as anti-balaka militia. An interim government appointed in January 2014 has failed to extend its influence outside Bangui. Many armed groups now earn income from illegal exports of gold, diamonds and other resources, according to the UN.
Lewis Mudge, country researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the new government will be faced with “seemingly intractable problems”.
“Much of the country is still controlled by a myriad of armed groups, hundreds of thousands of Central Africans are displaced both inside and outside of the country, the judicial system is barely functioning and disarmament has not begun in earnest,” he said.
A grenade attack on a vehicle used by a presidential candidate killed three people in the capital on Monday. The Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonné Nzapalainga, and the country’s Muslim leader, Omar Kobir Layama, on Tuesday organised a public meeting in PK5 to call for peace and urge people to cast their ballots.
Mr Bozize wasn’t allowed to run in the elections because of his previous tenure. His political party and spokesmen of anti-balaka militia said last week that they endorsed Mr Dologuele.