Voters in Burkina Faso began casting their ballots Sunday in presidential polls dominated by jihadi violence that has killed more than 2,000 people this year alone.
President Roch Marc Christian Kabore is likely to win a second term, with his supporters expecting an outright victory in the first round.
Voting will not take place in one-fifth of the country, where large areas of the impoverished country remain outside the state’s control.
Around 6.5 million people are expected to cast their ballot. However, the security risk will likely prevent voters in nearly 1,500 of the country’s 8,000 villages from participating.
Provisional results of the first round are expected by midweek.
Electoral fraud accusations
Kabore’s two main challengers are 2015’s runner-up, veteran opposition leader Zephirin Diabre, and Eddie Komboigo, standing for the party of former President Blaise Compaore.
Compaore, who was removed from power in a popular uprising in 2014, is now in exile, but some voters are nostalgic for his 27-year-long rule.
Diabre told reporters on Saturday that “There is a huge operation orchestrated by those in power to carry out a massive fraud” to give Kabore a first-round victory. “We will not accept results marred by irregularity,” he added.
However, the poll is being widely regarded as the country’s most democratic and competitive to date, with 13 candidates vying for the presidency, including one woman.
To avoid a run-off, Kabore needs to win more than 50% of Sunday’s vote.
Security has dominated the election campaign, due to a surge in attacks by groups with links to the militant groups Al-Qaida and the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS).
Authorities have deployed an undisclosed number of troops to polling stations in the West African country.
The violence has forced at least 1 million people — 5% of the country’s 20 million population — to flee their homes in the last two years. At least 1,200 people have been killed in extremist violence since 2015.
Earlier this month, IS killed 14 soldiers in one of the deadliest attacks on the Burkina Faso military in years.
Opposition candidates running against Kabore have criticized the government for its failure to stem the bloodshed. Most of them have called for a dialogue with jihadis — a suggestion that the president has rejected.
shs/mm (Reuters, AFP)
Voting starts in Burkina Faso under threat of jihadi violence The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Deutsche Welle.