Burkina's ex-PM Kabore looks set to win presidental vote

Romaric Ollo Hien, Patrick Fort
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Former Burkina Faso premier Roch Marc Christian Kabore, pictured at a polling station in Ouagadougou on November 29, 2015, is set to win a presidential poll that would make him the nation's first freely elected leader in 30 years

Former Burkina Faso premier Roch Marc Christian Kabore, pictured at a polling station in Ouagadougou on November 29, 2015, is set to win a presidential poll that would make him the nation's first freely elected leader in 30 years (AFP Photo/Issouf Sanogo)

Ouagadougou (AFP) - Burkina Faso's former premier Roch Marc Christian Kabore took the lead in a crucial presidential poll, initial partial results showed Monday, after a year of turmoil that saw people power oust former strongman Blaise Compaore and repel a military coup.

Partial results in the landmark poll showed Kabore, who governed under Compaore but later turned his back on the old regime, well ahead of his main rival Zephirin Diabre with 54.27 percent of the votes.

The election was aimed at setting the country on a fresh path to democracy. It was the first time in almost three decades that the west African nation voted for a new leader, following a popular uprising in October 2014 that brought Compaore down.

The poll comes two months after a failed military coup bid by Compaore loyalists, which both the main candidates opposed. The two men had challened the former leader's bid to change the constitution and extend his stay in power.

With votes counted in 253 communes out of 368, results showed Diabre lagging behind Kabore with 29.16 percent. While the leading contender had promised his followers a "first-round knock-out", Diabre's supporters anticipated a second round in which anything is possible.

Provisional results would be announced shortly before midnight GMT, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) said.

The vote had been "generally satisfactory" despite anomalies such as absent ballot papers and the late opening of some polling stations, CENI's Barthelemy Kere said.

Kere praised the "patience, tolerance and understanding" of the 5.5 million strong electorate, who were also voting for members of a new parliament for the mainly Muslim nation.

Long queues had formed outside polling stations, forcing some to stay open later than scheduled, and there were no reports of disturbances.

- 'Sighing with relief' -

The election was initially to have been held on October 11, but the country was plunged into fresh uncertainty in September when elite army leaders close to Compaore tried to seize power.

Once again angry citizens took to the streets to foil the coup. Its leaders, including Compaore's former guard chief General Gilbert Diendere were thrown behind bars and the elections were rescheduled.

People in Burkina, a poor nation of 18 million people that has a history of coups, are hoping the election will usher in a long era of peaceful democracy.

"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."

Turnout was strong in each of the 45 provinces, election chief Kere said, without giving figures. Observers noted that participation was certainly higher than during elections during the Compaore era, when it stood at around 50 percent.

"This is a victory... for the Burkinabe people," said Michel Kafando, who has presided over the transitional regime put in place after Compaore fled.

It was "the first fully democratic, transparent" election since 1978, when the former French colony was still known as Upper Volta, Kafando said.

- 'Real change' -

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cheered the "peaceful atmosphere" in which the election was conducted, as well as the "strong participation of women in the electoral process," his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Ban "encourages all political leaders and national stakeholders to maintain the peaceful atmosphere that prevailed on election day," he said, urging all disputes to be resolved through legal means.

Compaore's ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) was unable to put up any candidate in the presidential poll, under a contested law that barred anybody connected with his plan to change the constitution and cling to power.

However, the well-entrenched CDP had many candidates in the parliamentary election and could score well under the system of proportional representation.

"We have had a total rupture with the old system," Kabore said Sunday, pledging to "bring real change to the country".

He worked with Compaore for 26 years before falling out of favour and taking up a public stance against the regime and its party.

Diabre, an economist, opted for an international career but also served at home as minister of economy and finance and at one point joined the UN Development Programme.

The government deployed a 25,000-strong security force to oversee the election in the nation, which has been struck by attacks by jihadists from neighbouring Mali this year.