Vote counting is under way in Burkina Faso after polls closed in presidential and legislative elections, where threats of violence prevented parts of the country from casting ballots.
Electoral officials said on Monday incumbent Burkina Faso President Roch Kabore, who is vying for another five years against 12 other candidates, was leading with just three voting districts declared.
Election workers began the counting after polls closed on Sunday by holding the ballots up for observers and marking the votes on a chalkboard beside the candidate’s name. Preliminary results are expected within the next two days.
While there were no reported incidents of major attacks, threats of violence prevented hundreds of thousands of people from casting ballots in hard-hit parts of the country, in the North, Sahel and East regions. Armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) operate across vast swaths of Burkina Faso, part of an escalating security situation in West Africa’s Sahel, a semi-arid region south of the Sahara Desert.
Last year, the conflict killed some 2,000 people in Burkina Faso. More than one million Burkinabe people have been displaced by the fighting.
Newton Ahmed Barry, president for the National Independent Electoral Commission, said on local television that nearly 3,000 polling stations expected to open did not do so, preventing up to 350,000 people from voting.
In Tapoa province in the east, 224 polling stations out of 335 did not open, according to a report from CODEL, a local election monitoring group. CODEL said it was “concerned about the situation in areas weakened by insecurity”. Local officials in the Sahel and Centre North, the epicentres of the violence, told The Associated Press news agency people were angry about not being able to vote.
“I’m upset and people are complaining because they thought they’d be able to vote and couldn’t,” Saidou Wily, a government official in Barsalogho town in the Centre-North, said by phone on Sunday. At least 37 villages in the region expecting to vote, were unable to, he said.
Some open polling stations had to close early due to security concerns. In Markoye Commune in the Sahel’s Oudalan province, the polls closed three hours ahead of schedule, according to a post-election report from the West African Network of Peacebuilding, an organisation focused on human rights.
The electoral commission was unable to hold voter registration in more than 17 percent of the country’s municipalities, meaning voting did not take place in those violence-hit areas either – a development that would be seen as a victory for the armed groups.
A change in Burkina Faso’s electoral code this year means that election results will be valid even if people cannot vote in parts of the country.
Kabore is expected to win, but the opposition hopes to split the vote, depriving him of the 51 percent support needed for an outright victory in the first round. Then, it plans to form a coalition behind the strongest opposition candidate for the second round.
Opposition candidates accused the governing party of fraud, including bribing people. The parties also accused the National Independent Electoral Commission of making changes to the electoral map, said Zephirin Diabre, a leading candidate from the Progress and Change Party.
After voting in the capital, Ouagadougou, he told the media that he will congratulate whoever the winner is, but “won’t accept results that are stained with fraud and irregularities”