New Burkina Faso president promises ‘better tomorrow’ after landmark poll
Roch Marc Kabore became Burkina Faso’s first democratically elected leader in nearly four decades on Tuesday, vowing a brighter future for the western African country after a year of political turmoil and unrest.
Kabore won 53.49 percent of ballots cast in Sunday’s election, winning victory in the first round of a vote aimed at restoring stability after the popular revolt that toppled longtime leader Blaise Compaore in October 2014.
“We must get to work immediately,” 58-year-old Kabore, a former prime minister under Compaore who later broke ranks with the exiled ex-president, told several thousand supporters outside his party headquarters in the early hours of Tuesday.
“Together we must serve the country,” he said, pledging his determination “to open up opportunities for a better tomorrow”.
His nearest rival Zephirin Diabre, who scored 29.65 percent, conceded victory before the results were released.
Kabore expressed his “warm congratulations” to the transitional government that has run the west African country since a popular revolt deposed Compaore after he tried to change the constitution to extend his 27-year rule.
The people returned to the streets in September 2015 to protest a short-lived putsch by Compaore loyalists in the presidential guard.
That unrest forced presidential and parliamentary elections to be delayed but Sunday’s vote went off largely without incident, with voters hungry for change standing in long lines to cast their ballot.
The head of the electoral commission, Barthelemy Kere, described the election as “generally satisfactory” despite “a few anomalies” and said turnout was strong in all of the country’s 45 provinces.
– ‘Real change’ –
Burkina Faso’s 18 million people, most of whom live in grinding poverty, are hoping the election will usher in a long era of peace and democracy, ending the periodic coups that have marked the country’s history.
Kabore, a former banker seen as a consensus figure by some and an opportunist by others, has pledged to build “a new Burkina Faso” by fighting youth unemployment, improving education and modernising the health system.
“We have had a total rupture with the old system,” Kabore said Sunday, pledging to “bring real change to the country”.
For over a decade he led the ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) party and was seen as Compaore’s likely heir, but fell out with the strongman in 2012 and last year formed his own opposition party.
His win on Sunday was seen as proof of his appeal among both supporters and opponents of Compaore — now exiled in Ivory Coast — as well as both urban and rural dwellers.
Michel Kafando, leader of the transitional regime, praised the vote as “a victory… for the Burkinabe people”.
It was “the first fully democratic, transparent” election since 1978, when the former French colony was still known as Upper Volta, Kafando said.
– ‘Sighing with relief’ –
“We’re smiling broadly, we’re sighing with relief,” said Halidou Ouedraogo, chairman of CODEL, the civil society platform monitoring the election.
“The Burkinabe people rose to the challenge of holding these historic elections in a calmer atmosphere.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed the election’s “peaceful atmosphere” as well as the “strong participation of women in the electoral process,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The CDP was barred from fielding a candidate in the presidential poll under a contested law that prevented anybody connected with Compaore’s attempts to cling to power from seeking office.
But the well-entrenched party had several representatives standing in the parliamentary election and could score well under the system of proportional representation.
Around 25,000 members of the security force were deployed to keep the peace during the election, reflecting the nervousness in Burkina Faso over the uptick in Islamist attacks in neighbouring Mali.
In recent weeks there have been signs of the violence spilling over the border, with suspected jihadists attacking two police barracks along the frontier in recent weeks and holding up a van carrying money from a gold mine in the north.