8 January 2016

Central African Republic: Citizens Urged to Vote in Presidential Run-Off

Political change is gathering pace in Central African Republic, where two ex-prime ministers will be vying for the presidency in a run-off poll. Opponents' charges of first round 'irregularities' are subsiding.

Former premiers of the Central African Republic (CAR), Anicet Georges Dologuele and Faustin Archange Touadera, are expected to compete in a race to become the country's new democratically legitimized president, replacing interim incumbent Catherine Samba-Panza, in a second round run-off on January 31.

Dologuele won 23.7 percent in the first round of voting on December 30, trailed by Touadera who garnered 19.4 percent.

The provisional first round results, announced on Thursday (07.01.2016), have yet to be confirmed by the Constitutional Court. The court also has yet to formally endorse January 31 as the date for the run-off.

Dologuele urged Central Africans to go out and vote in the run-off in three weeks time. "I'm pleading with the people of CAR to keep on doing what they did in the first round. I'm the only candidate who obtained votes from all sides. I think there is general confidence in me and I promise to prove that I deserve it," he said on Thursday.

The 58-year-old economist spent more than a decade outside CAR before returning to its political scene in 2013. He served as prime minister from 1999 to 2001 under the government of President Ange-Felix Patasse, who was deposed in a 2003 coup by Francois Bozize. Bozize remained in power until 2013 when he was overthrown by rebel forces.

Dologuele's rival, Touadera, who is also 58, said he could "see the enthusiasm of the CAR people" to get out and vote in the run-off and that this indicated how much people "wanted peace and wished to escape from the present predicament."

Touadera, who a holds a doctorate in mathematics, served as prime minister under Bozize from 2008 until early 2013.

Other candidates dropping complaints

Protests by other candidates about the conduct of the first round of the election in December 2015 appear to have subsided. 28 out of 30 candidates have indicated that they "want to make sure that the election process carries on" and would only use legal means to express any complaints.

20 candidates had previously urged the authorities to halt the vote count because of what they termed irregularities in the ballot. Since Tuesday, at least five have publicly reversed their position.

Dologuele had 259,211 votes, while Touadera garned 222,391. No other candidate had more than 135,000 votes.

One diplomat in CAR, who asked not to be named, told AFP there had certainly been fraud in some areas and there have been huge logistical glitches which have disrupted the process "but massive fraud is unlikely."

Fears that the poll would be marred by violence appeared to be largely unfounded.

This is seen as a significant achievement in a country where Muslim rebels and Christian militias have frequently targeted civilians and in which one fifth of the country's population of 5 million have been forced to flee their homes because of the violence.

CAR's transitional authority assumed power in 2014. This came after rebel leader Michel Djotodia, the country's first Muslim president, stepped aside less than a year after his forces overthrew Bozize and his government.

The December 2015 elections, presidential and legislative, and the January 2016 run-off are part of a UN-backed effort to install democratic governance.

Jeff Murphy Bares contributed to this report.

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