CAR votes with peace at stake

2011-01-21 11:31

Bangui - The destitute Central African Republic votes for a new president and parliament on Sunday with peace the prize for a resource-rich country undercut by years of instability and rebellion.

Incumbent Francois Bozize is tipped to be the favourite pick of the 1.8 million eligible voters, with a rival he toppled and an ex-rebel chief among the other four names on the ballot paper for the presidential poll.

Trumpeting himself as "The Builder", Bozize conducted the best-resourced campaign, flashing orange everywhere through posters, T-shirts, hats and caps.

"I am confident. It is going well," said the 64-year-old, who took power in a coup in 2003 and was elected in 2005 in a vote disputed by the opposition.

Among his main challengers is the president that he ousted, Ange-Felix Patasse who was in power from 1993 to 2003.

Also in the running are former prime minister Martin Ziguele, and ex-defence minister and one-time head of the People's Army for the Restoration of Democracy rebel group, Jean-Jacques Demafouth.

Years of troubles

Emile Gros Raymond Nakombo from the Central African Democratic Rally party of former president Andre Kolingba is considered the most marginal contender.

"Fundamentally, what is at stake is the return to peace and with this peace, the relaunch of plans for development," said Ismail Sy, professor of law at the University of Bangui.

"This election could put an end to years of troubles," he said.

Since the fall in 1979 of military dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa, known as Africa's most ruthless ruler and accused of serving up his political rivals to lions and crocodiles, the Central African Republic has been rocked by regular rebellions and coups.

The instability has hobbled the progress of the country of 4.5 million people which ranks as among the poorest on the planet despite a wealth of raw materials such as uranium, diamonds and wood.

The former French colony embarked on a peace process in 2008 to integrate the opposition and rebels, with Sunday's election a culmination of the effort.


"Above all the election must be credible," said candidate Demafouth, who claims to represent the youth "who make up 70% of the population and have no future".

Patasse, who spent seven years in exile in Togo after he was deposed and returned in 2009, is standing as an independent, which analysts say may not work to his advantage, and puts his trust in his new-found faith in God.

"I am not the Patasse of yesterday," said the former president, who turns 74 on January 25, adding he was sure "God would entrust (him) with the ministry of the unity of the Central African people."

The opposition had criticised the organisation of the election, with some complaints about the late posting of voters' lists.