The polls include second-round votes in 49 electoral districts and a first-round vote in 69 districts where violence prevented elections from being held in December.
Voters in the Central African Republic (CAR) voted under tight security, in a second round of legislative elections after an outbreak of violence severely disrupted the polls late last year.
Forty-nine of the 140 seats in the National Assembly are up for grabs in Sunday’s vote, after 22 members of parliament were elected outright in the first round.
For the other 69 seats where unrest halted the vote on December 27, 2020, the ballot will serve as the first round – followed, if necessary, by a second on a date not yet scheduled.
Authorities are keen to avoid a repeat of the turmoil surrounding last year’s legislative and presidential elections when President Faustin-Archange Touadéra was re-elected, but a new alliance of rebel groups – which the United Nations says are backed by former President François Bozizé – has asked to take control amid allegations of voting irregularities.
Just over a week before the last vote, six of the armed groups that control two-thirds of the country joined forces and pledged to disrupt the elections, march on the capital and topple the government of Touadéra.
They besieged Bangui in January, strangling food supplies, forcing more than 200,000 people from their homes and fearing the country could fall back into the kind of conflict that has killed thousands of people over the past decade.
‘When you vote you want peace’
The government and the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSCA have both expressed confidence that Sunday’s elections will be peaceful due to additional forces on the ground and the capture of rebel strongholds since their initial offensive.
Touadéra’s party should easily retain its majority in the National Assembly, but there are fears that the vote will be disrupted again by the rebels, who have retreated to the countryside but still threaten to overthrow the government.
In the capital, Bangui, the electoral body reported a smooth process with only slight delays. Small lines of residents waited to vote as large numbers of security forces stood nearby.
Retired teacher Bertrand Dena, 50, said he was reassured by the strong police presence in his polling station in Bangui.
“When you vote, you want peace,” he told Reuters news agency.
At Barthelemy Boganda High School in Bangui, the number of voters was low. After voting, office worker Godefroy Mokoamanede declared that “unlike December 27, there is no real passion”.
“When people vote for the first time, they no longer see the point of voting a second time,” he told AFP news agency.
Thousands of people have been killed in CAR since civil war erupted in 2013, when a predominantly Muslim coalition called Séléka overthrew Bozizé in a coup.
The conflict erupted after a coalition of rebel groups from the country’s lawless and largely Muslim north forced their way into Bangui and deposed the president. In response, predominantly Christian militias known as the Anti-balaka retaliated, taking revenge on Muslim civilians.
The chaos that followed displaced hundreds of thousands of people and spawned a hotchpotch of armed groups as the rebel coalition disintegrated. A peace deal signed in 2019 calmed the bloodshed, but recent violence has heightened concerns and worsened an acute humanitarian crisis.
More than 30,000 people fled the country due to violence surrounding the last elections, according to the UN, while tens of thousands more have been internally displaced.