Challenging presidential and parliamentary elections were held on Sunday in the Central African Republic, where for the last week a coalition of armed groups put pressure on the government in an effort to obstruct the vote.
Gunshots were heard in Bangui from Saturday night to Sunday morning, according to RFI's service Afrique. However, this did not stop voters in the capital from gathering at polling stations in early morning.
Many voters said they came out to vote so they could say "no" to an armed takeover of power, reported correspondent Charlotte Cosset and RFI's Florence Morice, citing some problems with voting including late opening of polling stations, a lack of electoral materials and issues with voter lists.
It was difficult by Sunday evening to obtain a comprehensive and precise overview of areas where voting could not take place. CAR's National Authority in charge of Elections (ANE) said some 800 polling stations across the country could not open, according to a preliminary assessment, representing about 15% of the country's 5,400 polling stations.
However, an assessment by the official ballot security committee, which was leaked at the end of Sunday, painted a bleaker picture, saying voting could not take place in around one third of subprefectures.
This was the case in Bouar, some 375 kilometres northwest of Bangui, where heavy gunfire from Sunday morning created panic amongst locals. Neither polling station staff, nor voters went to polling stations in this market town in western Central African Republic, near the border with Cameroon.
It was a similar story in the town of Bossangoa, some 260 kilometres north of the capital, where electoral officials were threatened. The town is considered a former stronghold of former President Francois Bozizé.
In other areas, only partial voting could take place. In Bambari, 280 kilometres northeast of Bangui, it took the intervention of the UN mission in CAR (MINUSCA) before voting could start in certain polling stations on Sunday afternoon.
In the north of the CAR, several motorbikes used to transport voting materials were targeted by armed groups and heavy gunfire was heard by local residents, forcing people to stay away from polling stations.
In Kaga Bandoro, 300 kilometres north of the capital, only one polling station out of eight was operational.
"People came to the central Kaga Bandoro polling station, but the other polling stations could not vote," said the town mayor Abel Cherif. "Polling stations were threatened by armed groups, and people didn't go, neither the polling station staff, the voting materials or voters," he added.
Bangui votes amidst the calm.
- MINUSCA (@UN_CAR) December 28, 2020
In the city of Carnot, in the west of CAR, polling officials and voters managed to proceed with election day under the protection of UN peacekeepers. Nevertheless, a raid by the Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation (3R) rebel group later in the day destroyed all their efforts, when ballot boxes were burnt, and administrative buildings were attacked.
Elsewhere, in the capital, organisational problems impeded voting, notably at the Koudoukou polling station in the PK5 neighbourhood.
"The other day, I came to collect my voter card, but they didn't have it," said voter Hawa Diarra, who got up at 5am on Sunday to go and vote. "I was told that I could vote with the receipt, but today I'm told I cannot vote, what do I do?" she told RFI at 2pm, when she still had not cast her ballot.
Despite her receipt, her name did not figure on the electoral roll. And Hawa Diarra was not the only case like this, at least ten voters at the Koudoukou polling station had the same difficulty. Other problems included missing ballot papers, with only the presidential ballot paper available and no voting materials for the parliamentary vote.
Rebels groups in the CAR had called on people not to vote and have seized several towns close to the capital Bangui.
Incumbent President Faustin-Archange Touadéra is bidding for a second term in office and had accused his predecessor Bozizé of attempting to launch a coup with rebel groups.
Three UN peacekeepers were killed by unknown attackers in the run-up to the vote.
CAR authorities had rejected demands by the opposition to delay the vote because of insecurity.