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Burkina Faso awaits results of crucial presidential poll


burkina-faso-mapFirst results are due Monday from Burkina Faso’s presidential election aimed at setting the country on a fresh path after a year of turmoil which saw people power oust its veteran leader and repel a military coup.

Sunday’s delayed election was the first time in almost three decades that the west African nation voted for a new leader, following the ouster of president Blaise Compaore in a mass popular uprising in October 2014.

The two favourites, Roch Marc Christian Kabore and Zephirin Diabre, were both top figures in Compaore’s regime, but each broke with the former soldier and notably opposed his foiled bid to change the constitution and extend his stay in power.

A confident Kabore promised his followers a “first-round knock-out” but with a total of 14 candidates in the race, Diabre’s supporters anticipate a second round in which everything is possible.

The head of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), Barthelemy Kere, said the vote had been “generally satisfactory”, despite anomalies such as absent ballot papers and the late opening of some polling stations.

Kere praised the “patience, tolerance and understanding” of the 5.5 million strong electorate, who were also voting for members of a new parliament for the mainly Muslim nation.

Long queues had formed outside polling stations, forcing some to stay open later than scheduled, and there were no reports of disturbances.

– ‘Sighing with relief’ –
The election was due to have been held on October 11, but the country was plunged into fresh uncertainty in September when elite army leaders close to Compaore tried to seize power.

Once again angry citizens took to the streets to foil the coup. Its leaders, including Compaore’s former guard chief General Gilbert Diendere were thrown behind bars and the elections were rescheduled.

People in Burkina, a poor nation of 18 million people that has a history of coups, are hoping the election will usher in a long era of peaceful democracy.

“We’re smiling broadly, we’re sighing with relief,” said Halidou Ouedraogo, chairman of CODEL, the civil society platform monitoring the election.

“The Burkinabe people rose to the challenge of holding these historic elections in a calmer atmosphere.”

Turnout was strong in each of the 45 provinces, election chief Kere said, without giving figures. Observers noted that participation was certainly higher than during elections during the Compaore era, when it stood at around 50 percent.

“This is a victory… for the Burkinabe people,” said Michel Kafando, who has presided over the transitional regime put in place after Compaore fled.

It was “the first fully democratic, transparent” election since 1978, when the former French colony was still known as Upper Volta, Kafando said.

– ‘Real change’ –
Marxist revolutionary soldier Captain Thomas Sankara seized power in a 1983 coup and renamed the country as Burkina Faso (“Land of Upright Men”) before being killed in a 1987 coup by his ex-comrade Compaore.

Sankara is still widely admired for his pan-African ideals as well as his fight against corruption and neo-colonialism.

Compaore’s ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) was unable to put up any candidate in the presidential poll, under a contested law that barred anybody connected with his plan to change the constitution and cling to power.

However, the well-entrenched CDP had many candidates in the parliamentary election and could score well under the system of proportional representation.

“We have had a total rupture with the old system,” Kabore said Sunday, pledging to “bring real change to the country”.

He worked with Compaore for 26 years before falling out of favour and taking up a public stance against the regime and its party.

Diabre, an economist, opted for an international career but also served at home as minister of economy and finance and at one point joined the UN Development Programme.

The government deployed a 25,000-strong security force to oversee the election in the nation, which has been struck by attacks by jihadists from neighbouring Mali this year.

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