A powerful opposition coalition in Central African Republic on Wednesday called for the “cancellation, pure and simple” of weekend elections that were badly hampered by armed groups.
More than a third of the troubled country’s districts did not take part in Sunday’s first round of voting for the presidency and National Assembly, according to official figures.
In a statement, the Democratic Opposition Coalition (COD-2020), an alliance of political and other groups in the coup-prone country, said the elections “were not fair and inclusive and are in no way the expression of the people’s will.”
Condemning an “electoral farce”, it claimed widespread ballot stuffing and complained of a lack of observers in remote areas of the mineral-rich but poor country.
The twin elections, which the government described Tuesday as “credible, committed and popular,” have been seen as a key stability test for the CAR.
The landlocked nation, one of the world’s poorest, has seen a string of coups and wars since gaining independence from France in 1960.
In 2013, it spiralled once more into bloodshed when the then president, Francois Bozize, who had himself seized power a decade earlier, was overturned by a mostly Muslim coalition called the Seleka.
The frontrunner in the crowded field of 16 candidates for the presidency is the incumbent, Faustin Archange Touadera, who was elected in 2016 after a turbulent transition following the coup.
But his government controls only about one-third of the country, with militia groups that emerged from the conflict in 2013 controlling the other two-thirds of the territory.
The government on December 19 accused Bozize of fomenting a coup with several armed groups that it said were advancing on the capital, a charge Bozize denies.
Fears about the rebels swept the city in the following days, although the UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA said the advance had been stopped.
In many areas, militia groups hampered the organization of the elections and intimidated voters, according to local leaders and UN workers who asked not to be named.
In addition, thousands of people were prevented from voting or never received their voting cards because of the lack of security.
Voting did not take place in 29 of the country’s 71 sub-prefectures (sub-divisions of large administrative districts), the minister for territorial administration Augustin Yangana-Yahote told journalists Monday.
Six other sub-prefectures managed only a partial vote, Theophile Momokoama, the general rapporteur for the National Election Authority (ANE), told AFP.
The UN says numerous polling stations managed to open, but then swiftly closed or remained empty because of voting intimidation.
At a press conference on Tuesday, observers from international organizations, mainly the 11-nation Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) of which the CAR is a member, expressed satisfaction with the elections.
But Thierry Vircoulon, a researcher with the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), said: “These are part-elections, they are not credible and do not meet international standards.”
The vote tally is expected to take three weeks because the ballots must be transported to Bangui in view of the insecurity.
Weeks before results
Provisional results are expected from January 4, but no final results are expected before January 18. A runoff will be held on February 14 if there is no outright winner in the first round.
Touadera’s election victory in 2015-16 was declared after a similarly long period marked by allegations of ballot disappearance and other irregularities.
COD-2020 had already called on December 19 for the elections to be canceled.
Nathalia Dukhan, a CAR specialist with a US NGO called The Sentry, said electoral fraud in the 2015-16 vote “was tolerated and thus legitimized” – it was deemed the price for consolidating peace after the civil war.
“But today, it’s the entire political opposition which is condemning massive rigging,” she said.
Government spokesman Ange Maxime Kazagui shrugged off the naysayers on Tuesday, insisting that the Central African people “showed their firm will to go and vote, despite the dangers.”
“Voting took place in the CAR’s 16 prefectures. Eight hundred polling stations out of 5,408 did not open. That means that 85 percent of the polling stations were open to the public,” he said.