Voters go to polls in Burkina Faso in test of new democracy

The election is the first since former president Blaise Compaore was forced out last year after twenty-seven years in power.

Theo Renaut/AP
A voter casts her ballot in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso on Sunday.

Thousands of people cast their ballots Sunday in Burkina Faso's first presidential and legislative elections since a popular uprising toppled the nation's longtime leader last year.

Many say the vote will be the most democratic in the West African nation's history, because no incumbent is on the ballot and the presidential guard has been dissolved.

"It is a victory for the youth that has expressed its will for change and for real democracy," said transitional President Michel Kafando after casting his vote.

He also said it was a victory for the about 17 million citizens of Burkina Faso who have waited decades for a democratic vote and called on citizens to avoid violence after results are announced.

A popular uprising in October 2014 forced President Blaise Compaore to resign after a 27-year rule. A transitional government was put in place, but it was soon at odds with Compaore's elite presidential guard. The presidential guard staged a coup in September that lasted only a week and caused the election, originally scheduled for October, to be postponed. It was the country's sixth coup since it gained independence from France in 1960.

Burkina Faso's new electoral code bars presidential candidates who supported Compaore's bid to change the constitution, although the ex-president's party could have a strong showing in the legislative election.

"We must show that civilians can rule the country, and bring it to normality. We have faced a lot of coups and it is enough," said Roch Marc Christian Kabore, one of the front-runners.

Abdoulaye Sawadogo, an engineer at a road building company, said he hopes the new leader will address issues of employment, health and education.

Cynthia Ohayon, an analyst with the International Crisis Group said whoever is elected will have a hard time fulfilling voters' hopes.

"The expectations are so high — for change, for justice, for the fight against corruption," Ohayon said.

Some 5.5 million people were registered to vote at more than 17,800 polling stations that closed around 6 p.m. local time on Sunday. Preliminary results are expected to start being announced on Monday.

A candidate needs more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.

More than 17,000 local and foreign observers monitored the poll, and 25,000 soldiers and police were deployed.

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