Voters went to the polls in Burkina Faso on Sunday for presidential and legislative elections which have been marred by persistent violence in this landlocked West African country.
President Roch Marc Christian Kabore has promised to secure the country and will fight for another five years in power against 12 other candidates.
Kabore is expected to win, but the opposition is hoping to split the vote, robbing him of the 51% support needed for an outright first-round victory. He then plans to form a coalition behind the strongest opposition candidate for the second ballot.
The campaign was accompanied by continuous bloodshed and fear of attacks by armed groups on election day prevailed.
Fourteen soldiers were killed in an ambush in the north claimed by ISIS (ISIS) earlier this month, one of the deadliest attacks on the military in five years of rebellion.
Violence in the north – as in neighboring Sahel states, Mali and Niger – has been intertwined with clashes between ethnic groups.
The Fulani community has in particular been the target of recruitment by combatants and attacks regularly provoke reprisals, continuing the cycle of violence.
Humanitarian groups condemned the massacres of Fulani civilians by pro-government militias or the army.
The president’s two main challengers are the 2015 finalist, veteran opposition leader Zephirin Diabre, and Eddie Komboigo, representing the party of former President Blaise Compaoré.
Compaoré, who was overthrown by a popular uprising in 2014 after 27 years in power, is now in exile.
Diabre told reporters on Saturday “that there is a huge operation orchestrated by those in power to commit massive fraud” to give Kabore a first round victory.
“We will not accept results marred by irregularities,” added Diabre, surrounded at a press conference by five of the eleven other opposition candidates, including Komboigo.
Crisis rooms have been set up around the city, where organizations can monitor the vote to check for irregularities, voter suppression and violence, according to Codel, a local election-focused organization.
“Vote for change in this country”
Dozens of people lined up at polling stations in the capital, Ouagadougou, before sunrise on Sunday.
Oumar Zorome, 55, was the first to vote in the town’s Patte d’Oie neighborhood and supports Kabore, who he says has built roads and is not responsible for the country’s struggles against insecurity.
“I am voting for change in this country to continue already,” he said.
Voting has also started in areas marked by violence in the country where, just a few weeks ago, officials were unsure it would be possible to vote.
In Barsalogho, in the north-central region of the country, more than 60 people lined up when the ballot boxes opened the ballot boxes amid heightened security, according to an official.
“I’m surprised. I didn’t think we could vote but things are calm so far,” Saidou Wily, a government official in Barsalogho, told The Associated Press.
Al-Qaeda and ISIS-linked violence has displaced more than a million people and cut off parts of the country, preventing at least 166,000 new voters from registering, according to election officials.
The results are expected in the coming days.