In a major feat for a country plagued by unrest, the people of Central African Republic queued up to vote in key elections. 'We are voting in dignity and peace and I am proud,' the outgoing interim president said.
Voters in Central African Republic (CAR) cast their ballots in presidential and legislative elections on Wednesday, hoping for greater stability after years of violence.
They are choosing a president from a list of 30 candidates to replace interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, who was installed in office in January 2014. More than 1.8 million people are expected to vote at more than 500 polling stations nationwide.
Voters DW spoke to in the capital Bangui were cautiously optimistic. "In the Ngoussimon district everything is going well," said Beyonze Felix. "We are awaiting the results and hope that they are good enough, so that Central Africans get what they have been waiting for - peace and social cohesion - for over two years."
Lambo Frederic told DW "we want these elections to be credible. I've seen how keen everybody is to vote."
Albert Zavonou said "we want peace in CAR so that our children can go to school, get on with their education and prepare for the future."
A DW correspondent in Bangui, Katarina Höije, said voters were caught between hope and doubt when polling stations opened.
"There is the widespread belief that elections will bring peace and stability and end years of unrest and sectarian violence. However, the elections have been organized in less than perfect conditions," she said.
Candidates' names missing
Officials insisted they were doing their best. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga heads the 11,000 strong UN peacekeeping mission MINUSCA.
"Our goal is to do everything in our power to make sure the elections are credible and that as many people as possible can vote under the best conditions possible," he said.
Voters stood patiently in line, some wearing colorful clothing, others hoisting parasols to ward off the hot sun.
There were a few problems, including reports of parliamentary candidates' names missing from ballots. Polls began to close at 5 pm local time without any reports of violence.
Samba-Panza voted at a school in Bangui, urging others to get to the polls.
"Many thought this day, this vote would not be possible for security and organizational reasons. But, you see, we all are voting in dignity and peace and I am proud," the outgoing interim president said.
Among the favored candidates are former prime ministers Martin Ziguele and Anicet Georges Dologuele, and Abdoul Karim Meckassoua, a former foreign minister under former President Francois Bozize.
CAR has been rocked by unrest since March 2013 when a largely Muslim alliance of rebel groups known as Seleka overthrew Bozize. The rebel leader left power in 2014 and a horrific backlash by the Christian anti-Balaka militia against Muslim civilians followed. Thousands were killed and sectarian violence has continued, displacing nearly 1 million people.
That elections are being held at all is being seen as major achievement for a nation which has delayed them several times this year. Preliminary results are expected in a few days time.
Jeff Murphy Barres in Bangui contributed to this report