Voting begins in ‘crucial’ CAR polls

BANGUI. – Voters in the Central African Republic began casting ballots yesterday in delayed legislative elections and a presidential run-off which they hope will bring peace after the country’s worst violence since independence in 1960.

Voters are hoping the country could take a step towards rebirth if the polls go smoothly, following three years of political chaos, misrule and violence.

“Whoever becomes president has an awful amount of work to do managing expectations, because people are telling us that they see these elections as a new start for this country”, said Trent, speaking from the capital, Bagui.

The two candidates vying for the presidency are both former prime ministers who have campaigned on promises to restore security and boost the economy in the mineral-rich but poor country.

The first round on December 30 was won by ex-premier Anicet Georges Dologuele, a 58-year-old former central banker known as “Mr Clean” for his attempts to bring transparency to murky public finances when in office. He took 23,78 percent of the vote.

Dologuele will face off against Faustin Archange Touadera, also 58, a former maths professor standing as an independent who surprised everyone by coming second in the first round with 19,4 percent.

Touadera’s popularity stems from a measure he introduced as prime minister – paying government salaries directly into bank accounts, ending decades of pay arrears and unpaid wages.

As well as choosing a president, voters were casting ballots in a re-run of the last legislative election, also held on December 30, that was later annulled over numerous irregularities.

This election will see a staggering 1 800 candidates competing for a place in the 105-seat National Assembly.

“What we want first and foremost is security to give a new impetus to the country,” said a soldier, who identified himself as Ndadder, as he patiently waited to vote in PK5, a Muslim-majority area in the capital Bangui which had been the scene of bloody religious violence.

“We hope that it all goes well and goes quickly so that we can have a president,” said Parfait Gbokou (30), who was among the first to vote after polls opened at 6am (0500 GMT) at a primary school in the centre of Bangui.

The race for the presidency is expected to be close.

Both the current presidential candidates are Christians.

Even though the December polls passed off peacefully, security was expected to be tight with UN peacekeepers and French soldiers helping to patrol areas where tensions remain high. – AFP/Reuters/France24/HR.

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