Troubled Africa goes to the polls


Published on: 12/27/2020 – 04:58

Bangui (Central African Republic) (AFP)

Voting was set to begin Sunday in the presidential and legislative elections in the Central African Republic, in a key test for one of the world’s most troubled countries.

The poll comes after a week of turbulence marked by accusations of attempted coup, the brief seizure of CAR’s fourth city and the dispatch of military personnel by Russia and Rwanda to aid its beleaguered government .

The favorite for the presidency is Faustin Archange Touadera, who was elected in 2016.

Thousands of people have died since a civil war broke out in 2013 and more than a quarter of the population of 4.9 million have fled their homes. Of that number, 675,000 are refugees in neighboring countries and cannot vote.

Although the bloodshed has diminished in intensity over the past two years, the violence remains chronic. Militia groups dominate two-thirds of the territory, raising fears of intimidation that could also affect turnout.

On December 19, the government accused armed groups of regrouping and advancing on the capital Bangui in a plot allegedly fomented by ousted former president François Bozize, a charge it denies.

Fears about the rebels swept through the city in the following days, though the UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA said their advance had been halted.

“There are security risks around the elections, but I will go and vote,” Lionel Fotot, 29, said on Thursday as he went to collect his voter card from a school in Bangui.

– “How to vote? “-

Others were less optimistic, however, as sporadic fighting could jeopardize the vote.

“Everyone is fleeing right now. I’m locked up at home, ”Robert, from Boali, 80 kilometers north of Bangui, told AFP, explosions audible in the background.

“How to vote when we do not even have our voter cards,” he added.

The rebel coalition announced a 72-hour “unilateral ceasefire” on Wednesday as the vote approached, only to cancel it on Friday.

In a statement authenticated by two of its six members, the coalition said it would resume its march on the capital.

On Tuesday, CAR’s fourth largest town, Bambari, 380 km northeast of Bangui, was overrun by an armed group called the Central African Peace Unit (UPC).

Security forces backed by UN peacekeepers regained control the next day.

Sixteen candidates are vying for the presidency.

Touadera’s main rival is Anicet Georges Dologuele, economist and former Prime Minister.

He is backed by Bozize after his own candidacy was banned by CAR’s highest court for being on a wanted list in 2014 and under UN sanctions.

A second round of voting will take place on February 14 if there is no overall majority in the first round.

About 1,500 candidates are vying for 140 seats in the National Assembly, but many have been unable to campaign due to insecurity.

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