Burkina Faso was braced Monday for the results of its presidential election after hundreds of thousands were unable to vote due to the country’s jihadist threat.
President Roch Marc Christian Kabore is widely expected to be re-elected for a second term, despite criticism from the 12 opposition candidates over his failure to stem a growing jihadist insurgency.
The National Electoral Commission had announced it would begin releasing results from Sunday’s ballot on Monday morning but postponed the deadline and by 2 pm (1400 GMT) it had given the results of only three communes.
Commission president Newton Ahmed Barry told reporters late Sunday that between 300,000 and 350,000 of about 6.5 million voters had not cast their ballots due to “security threats”.
“Individuals have banned people from taking part in the vote,” Barry said. They “told people that whoever dips his finger in indelible ink can say goodbye to his finger”.
The Constitutional Court had said in early November that the election could not be held in nearly one-fifth of the West African nation, where large swathes of territory remain outside the state’s control and jihadists strike almost daily.
That would not prevent the validation of the results, however, as the National Assembly adopted an amendment to the electoral code in August to make the elections valid even if they could not be held throughout the country.
Jihadist-related violence has forced one million people — five percent of the 20 million population — from their homes in the last two years and at least 1,200 have been killed since 2015.
In some places in the north, “there is no election, and it is far from being the priority of the people who seek first to avoid being killed by one side or the other of the conflict,” an expert on security issues in the Dori region told AFP.
In the capital Ouagadougou and in the south, however, election officials said the vote went smoothly.
Counting by candlelight
Counting the vote of the presidential and parliamentary polls began in Ouagadougou on Sunday shortly after 6:00 pm (1800 GMT).
Much of it was done by candlelight or flashlight in schools which do not have electricity, a common practice in one of the poorest countries in the world.
At one polling station, monitors oversaw counting as helicopters arrived to a nearby airport carrying ballot boxes and staff from offices in remote areas.
“It’s important to be there, so no one can say later that there was fraud,” said Adama, a student who added that he was paid by a small opposition party to watch the ballots be counted.
Before the vote, the opposition had accused the ruling party of having organised “massive fraud” in Sunday’s first round, allegations that Kabore rejected.
Opposition to unite?
The president’s two main challengers are 2015 runner-up Zephirin Diabre and Eddie Komboigo, standing for the party of former president Blaise Compaore.
Kabore would avoid a run-off election by winning more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round — as he did five years ago.
However, his opponents say that will not be possible if the election is carried out fairly in the country which has experienced multiple coups since gaining independence from France in 1960.
The opposition has said it would unite behind the leading candidate in the second round, which has never happened in Burkina Faso before.
Almost all of Kabore’s challengers have called for dialogue with the jihadists to be explored, a suggestion Kabore has emphatically rejected.
“We’re really looking forward to security,” said Abdoulaye Koula, a voter in Ouagadougou.
“We know that it is not easy but we would like there to be peace, that there is forgiveness among the Burkinabe and that we can live together in harmony.”