By Edward McAllister
OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Polls closed in Burkina Faso on Sunday after a presidential and parliamentary election dominated by the threat of Islamist violence that prevented voting in hundreds of villages.
Polling stations were closed across swathes of the north and east where groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State operate. Some that had planned to open were shut because of threats, the electoral commission said.
"People were threatened. They told them: 'Those who put their fingers in the ink can say goodbye to their finger'," the commission's head, Newton Ahmed Barry, told a news conference, referring to the ink marks people are given to show they have voted.
Before election day, official data indicated that at least 400,000 people - nearly 7% of the electorate - were likely to be unable to vote due to polling stations staying shut for fear of violence.
That number could be far higher as many of the 1 million people displaced by unrest in the arid West African country have also found themselves unable to cast ballots.
The expected low turnout puts added strain on the young democracy in the former French colony, where leaders seem "unable to properly address the deteriorating security situation or ... the country’s socio-economic woes", said Alexandre Raymakers, analyst at the London-based risk firm Verisk Maplecroft.
HEALTHCARE AND ROADS
President Roch Kabore is seeking a second five-year term, campaigning on achievements such as free healthcare for children under the age of five and paving some of the red dirt roads that snake across the landlocked country of 21 million.
But the surge in jihadist attacks has eclipsed everything: more than 2,000 people have died in violence this year alone.
"I call on all Burkinabe to vote, whatever their leaning. It’s about the democracy of Burkina Faso, it’s about development, it’s about peace," Kabore told reporters after voting.
Leading opposition candidates include former finance minister and 2015 runner-up Zephirin Diabre, and Eddie Komboigo, head of the party of Blaise Compaore, who was president for 27 years until a 2014 revolution.
Komboigo on Sunday joined Diabre in claiming the vote had been marred by fraud. Both vowed to file a formal complaint on Monday. They did not provide evidence for their claims.
Analysts expect a tight race that could go to a second round if no candidate wins more than 50%. Provisional results from the first round are expected early in the week.
Election officials began counting after the polls closed at nightfall, chalking up each vote on school blackboards across Ouagadougou.
Some hope the outcome will bring some sort of change.
"Before we had peace, now we have none," said 48-year-old security guard Gilbert Alalinga, as children raced on bicycles in a sandy field beyond. He said he had voted for Komboigo.
"I want to be able to travel to the north, the east, the south without problem."
(Writing by Edward McAllister and Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Bate Felix, Kevin Liffey, David Goodman and Frances Kerry)