Bangui (Central African Republic) (AFP) – Faustin-Archange Touadera, a former prime minister and maths professor, was Saturday declared the winner of a presidential election in the Central African Republic seen as crucial to turning the page on years of sectarian violence.
Touadera won 62.71 percent of the hotly contested run-off vote compared with 37.29 for Anicet-Georges Dologuele, a one-time banker nicknamed “Mr Clean” who had won the first round on December 30, the national electoral authority (ANE) announced.
Voter turnout was a lower-than-expected 61 percent, the ANE said.
The results still have to be confirmed by the constitutional court.
Touadera, 58, who ran as an independent, surprised everyone when he took second place in the first round vote.
The well-respected former mathematics professor served as the last premier of ex-president Francois Bozize who was deposed in a coup in 2013.
The ouster of Bozize, a Christian, by the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels unleashed a spiral of violence between Muslim and Christian militias that left thousands dead, and many voters expressed a strong desire for peace when they cast their ballots last Sunday.
Touadera’s team hailed his victory as a new chapter for the chronically unstable nation, which has been run by a transitional government since 2014.
“It warms your heart. It shows the desire of the Central African people to end the transition and the serious crisis that has gripped our country since 2013,” Touadera’s campaign manager Simplice Sarandji told reporters.
Touadera’s rival Dologuele, also 58 and himself a former premier, accepted his defeat and said he would not challenge the results.
“I respect the decision of the national election authority and congratulate the new president-elect,” he said during a press briefing at his home.
– ‘He stayed’ –
Touadera’s jubilant supporters took to the streets of Bangui carrying his portraits and cheering for their so-called “candidate of the people”.
“Touadera has the calm force of teachers,” said one of them, who gave his name as Elyse.
Edouard Pounawala, a motorcycle taxi driver, said he admired Touadera because he stayed in the country after the coup “while others gorged on roasted chicken and red wine in France and in other European countries”.
“We are going to support him to the end,” he added.
A softly-spoken academic, Touadera campaigned on promises to restore security and boost the economy in the mineral-rich but dirt-poor nation.
Many say his popularity stems from a grassroots measure during his 2008-2013 premiership, namely the payment of salaries of government officials directly into bank accounts and thereby ending decades of pay arrears and unpaid wages.
“He will be remembered as someone who paid civil servants and he is greatly appreciated for that,” said a diplomatic source in Bangui before the run-off vote.
Touadera also demonstrated impressive diplomatic skills in 2008, leading tortuous talks involving the government, the opposition and rebels which led to several peace accords being signed with insurgent groups.
Even during his stint in government, Touadera — who studied in France and Cameroon — clung to his academic roots and continued to teach at the University of Bangui.
“He has never run after a career in politics. It’s more politics that sought him out for his qualities,” a source close to him recently told AFP.
French President Francois Hollande was among the first world leaders to send his congratulations, wishing Touadera “success in bringing the Central African people together for reconciliation and development”.
“This election which took place in an atmosphere of calm and transparency, demonstrates the extent of the progress made in the past three years,” Hollande said in a statement.
The bloodshed that followed the 2013 coup triggered the Central African Republic’s worst humanitarian crisis since it gained independence from France in 1960.
As well as leaving thousands dead, the atrocities drove about a tenth of the population of 4.8 million people from their homes.
- Politics & Government
- Central African Republic