Burkina Faso election takes place amid jihadist threat

A woman casts her ballot for municipal elections at a polling station in Ouagadougou in 2016.
Peace, security and reconciliation are top priorities for many voters (archive photo)

Polls have closed in Burkina Faso where people have been voting in presidential and parliamentary elections.

Voting passed peacefully but some polling stations in eastern areas affected by a jihadist conflict had to close early due to security threats.

President Roch Kaboré is seeking a second five-year term, with 13 opposition candidates challenging him.

Brutal attacks have forced more than than one million civilians from their homes in the past two years alone.

Campaigning was halted for 48 hours last week following a deadly ambush on soldiers in the north of the country.

Up to a fifth of the landlocked West African country is out of state control, estimates suggest, with rival jihadist groups battling for dominance and also attacks by other armed militias.

President Kaboré cast his vote in a school in the capital Ouagadougou and urged people to take part.

"I call on all Burkinabè to vote, whatever their leaning. It's about the democracy of Burkina Faso, it's about development, it's about peace," he said.

Election commission chief Newton Ahmed Barry told reporters that some polling stations in insecure eastern areas had to close early on Sunday because people had been threatened by jihadists.

"They told them: 'Those who put their fingers in the ink can say goodbye to their finger'," he said, referring to the method used to show people have voted.

Ahead of the vote it was estimated that at least 400,000 people - nearly 7% of the electorate - would be unable to take part due to polling stations being closed under threat of violence.

The election is being held amid the coronavirus pandemic and many businesses and schools have been forced to close in parts of the country. In September, the UN warned that more than 500,000 Burkinabè children were acutely malnourished.

However, peace and security are priorities for many in this year's elections, BBC Afrique's Lalla Sy reports.

Who is taking part?

President Kaboré, who has governed Burkina Faso since 2015, is seeking a second term.

His main challengers are veteran opposition UPC leader Zéphirin Diabré, and Eddie Komboïgo, standing for the CPD party of ousted former President Blaise Compaoré.

Now living in exile, Mr Compaoré's 27-year rule ended in 2014 after a wave of popular protests.

Mr Kaboré once served as Mr Compaoré's prime minister, but gained popularity after opposing his bid to change the constitution and run for a third term. He left the ruling party and formed the MPP.

In all, 13 candidates are running - including the only woman in the race Yéli Monique Kam, former culture minister Tahirou Barry, Gilbert Noël Ouédraogo, Farama Ségui Ambroise among others.

AFP news agency reports that almost all the opposition candidates support the idea of holding talks with the jihadists, and quotes Mr Diabré as saying "military action on its own has never been able to defeat terrorism in any part of the world".

But President Kaboré has ruled it out, as has former colonial power France which has troops stationed in the country and whose President Emmanuel Macron reportedly said: "We don't talk with terrorists. We fight."

How does the election work?

Under Burkina Faso's electoral rules, the winning candidate requires a majority of votes to become president.

Nine presidential candidates and 22 opposition parties signed an agreement in August to rally behind any candidate who reaches the second round of the vote to boost their chances of unseating President Kaboré.

For the first time in Burkina Faso's history, citizens living abroad will be eligible to vote, in accordance with demands from the populist uprising that ousted former President Compaoré. Ivory Coast is home to more than 1.7m potential voters.

Results are expected within days.

IS and al-Qaeda's JNIM are both active in the Sahel region where they compete for power
IS and al-Qaeda's JNIM are both active in the Sahel region where they compete for power