With Rwandan and UN guards in tow, President Faustin-Archange Touadera was one of the earliest to cast their ballots as polls opened in the Central African Republic’s presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday.
Touadera was keen to show his nervous compatriots that the vote was being held despite renewed rebel violence in the countryside.
The rebels are opposed to the exercise. They have called for a transitional government instead.
“I thank President Paul Kagame, the Rwandan government, and the Rwandan people for their support in securing this process, which will allow Central Africans to freely choose their leaders”, said Touadera who is seeking re-election.
Rwanda has deployed several hundred troops to the Central African Republic in recent weeks to help thwart what Bangui has called a coup.
Africa News’ Thierry Nzam said there was a very unusual security presence in Bangui on Sunday.
“But we have heard that in Bambari, people went out to vote but the exercise was disrupted by armed groups”, said Nzam, from the capital Bangui.
Opposition parties had expressed fears that voting would not be possible outside Bangui where armed groups and militias exert control.
But their appeal for a postponement was dismissed by court.
Touadera’s beleaguered government only controls a small fraction of Central African Republic territory.
Main opposition candidate Anicet Dologuele said holding the vote in the face of insecurity denies people outside the capital a chance to participate.
“Unfortunately, I have the impression that more than half of the country did not vote, which is what we feared when we asked for the conditions to be set for every citizen to be able to exercise their right to vote, I have the impression that many have been deprived of the right to vote and that is a pity”, said Dologuele after voting in Bangui.
Elsewhere in the capital, people lined up to vote at polling stations set up in school buildings and community centers.
The UN said its forces had repelled attacks by armed groups in Bria and Paoua areas, allowing people to vote peacefully.