Voters in the Central African Republic have cast ballots in elections that many hope will end years of sectarian violence and bring stability. But results could be some time in coming.
The Central African Republic (CAR) on Thursday began what could be a long wait for final results from the preceding day's presidential and parliamentary elections, which are being seen as key to resolving the country's bloody Muslim-Christian conflict
Although preliminary results are expected within the next few days, the final outcome of the polls could take up to 15 days to be made public; a second round runoff vote is almost guaranteed afterwards, given the lengthy list of 30 candidates.
An estimated 2 million people were eligible to vote in Wednesday's elections, which had been delayed for three days because of the late arrival of electoral material - the latest in a series of postponements.
A United Nations peacekeeping mission that was charged with ensuring a peaceful vote has described the elections as "a success," with no violence so far reported, despite hitches that caused delayed voting at several polling stations.
"We are completely satisfied, this is a success," said Parfait Ananga-Anyanga, the head of the MINUSCA mission, while MINUSCA's military chief, Balla Keita, was even more upbeat in his assessment: "Honestly, we have performed a miracle in a country at war."
The peacekeepers were called in to protect the polls after a constutional referendum earlier this month was marred by violence. Ninety percent of voters at the referendum backed a new constitution that, among other things, allows presidents to remain only two terms in office.
Wednesday's presidential election was contested by 30 candidates, including Christian former prime ministers Martin Ziguele and Anicet-Georges Dologuele and former foreign minister and Muslim leader Karim Meckassoua as frontrunners.
The presidential vote is expected to go to a run-off on January 31.
At least 1,800 people also ran for a place in the 105-seat National Assembly.
The CAR, a Christian-majority country, has been wracked by bloody violence since a mainly Muslim rebel alliance, the Seleka, ousted former President Francois Bozize in a March 2013 coup, installing Muslim leader Michel Djotodia in his stead.
Although Djotodia disbanded the Seleka and stepped down in January 2014, attacks on Christians by rogue Muslim rebels continued. These were met by reprisal attacks by Christian "anti-balaka" (anti-machete") militias, leading to a spiral of violence that killed thousands and made around a quarter of the country's 4.7 million inhabitants homeless.
Since January 2014, the country has been led by a transitional government under an interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza. Samba-Panza did not take part in Wednesday's election, as the new constitution forbade her participation as a member of the interim administration.
tj/msh (dpa, Reuters, AFP)