Burkina Faso voted on Sunday in a presidential poll that appeared to generate little enthusiasm and was expected to cement the power of incumbent Blaise Compaore for years to come.
Turnout was visibly low in the capital Ouagadougou and other main cities, and stacks of voter registration cards stood untouched in polling booths, residents said.
A low turnout is expected to play into Compaore’s hands. Turnout was 57,6% in 2005, when Compaore won 80% of the vote.
The 59-year-old leader has led the impoverished African nation since 1987 when he staged the country’s fifth military coup since independence in 1960, and the opposition fear he could extend his grip on power indefinitely after the vote.
One of Compaore’s rivals, Benewende Stanislas Sankara, did not vote in protest against “fraud witnessed by our representatives in polling stations, in Ouagadougou and the interior”, a campaign official said.
The electoral commission has said it expects to declare provisional results by Thursday at the latest, but few in Burkina Faso expect anything other than a “Blaise” win.
“It’s over,” said a source close to the president.
Compaore voted in the morning in a polling station in the centre of Ouagadougou with his wife Chantal.
“We must place our faith in the choice of the people and we await their choice with confidence,” the president added.
Supporters say Compaore has brought stability to the land-locked former French colony and established himself as “mediator-in-chief” in other West African nations beset by crises.
The rural country remains one of the poorest in the world with nearly half of its 16-million population living in poverty.
The opposition, which boycotted the nation’s first two democratic polls in 1991 and 1998, remains weak, divided and lacking a strong, charismatic personality.
This was evident in campaigning, as Compaore held huge rallies while the opposition were only able to muster small gatherings.
The opposition is fielding five candidates including Sankara, a lawyer who finished in second place in the 2005 ballot with nearly 5% of the vote.
Pargui Emile Pare, who scored less than 1% in 2005, was also standing along with first-time candidates former army commander Boukary Kabore, diplomat and former United Nations official Hama Arba Diallo, hydrogeologist Ouampoussoga Francois Kabore.
They had all threatened to pull out of the vote citing irregularities and only decided to proceed with the vote on Saturday.
Another candidate, Maxime Kabore, is running as an independent.
If re-elected, Compaore has pledged to carry out political and institutional reform including the creation of a senate in addition to the national assembly.
But his party has taken upon itself one highly contentious task.
The Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) said several months ago it wished to abolish the limit on the number of times the president can run for office, fixed in 1991 at two five-year terms.
In this way, Compaore could stand again in 2015 and beyond, after two five-year and two seven-year terms.
However, the influential Roman Catholic Church and the opposition have denounced the plan.
After voting in the capital’s Ouaga suburb, 19-year-old student Sylvie Christiane Kabore said he hoped his “candidate Blaise Compaore will win”, as he was a “pleasant man” whose programme he likes since it was meant to give Burkina Faso a boost.
But Innocent Sanou, a sports centre manager in her 30s, said she would not vote for Compaore as 23 years in power “is too long for one person”.
Sanou said she had spoilt her ballot paper because none of the other candidates were credible. — Sapa-AFP