The two candidates contesting a presidential run-off in the Central African Republic cast their ballots on Sunday in a key vote largely crucial to restoring peace in the country following years of religious violence.
The first round of legislative polls, which took place in December, were cancelled over irregularities. But a turnout of nearly 80 percent then was largely seen as a popular rejection of violence in the country.
In the capital Bangui, candidate Faustin-Archange Touadera, a former prime minister, cast his vote and said he hoped for a large turnout.
“We have presented our party projects for the people, and we hope that people will come out to vote in large numbers for our bid because our candidacy is one of togetherness and confidence,” he said.
His opponent, Anicet-Georges Dologuele, also voted in the capital, along with his wife.
“The sense of duty and joy to vote in this second round has been an accomplishment, so I participated in ending this transition and starting a new era for the Central African Republic,” Dologuele, another former prime minister, said.
Both Dologuele, a banker, and trained mathematics professor Touadera have made the restoration of peace and security the centerpiece of their presidential campaigns. Both candidates are Christians.
Touadera has portrayed himself as an anti-corruption stalwart, while Dologuele pledges to revive the economy and draw in investors.
Whoever wins the presidency will face the daunting tasks of extending state authority outside the capital, rebuilding the army, breathing life into a moribund economy and restoring a semblance of security across the nation awash with guns.
Central African Republic is one of the world’s most unstable countries. It was plunged into the worst crisis in its history in early 2013, when mainly Muslim Seleka fighters toppled President Francois Bozize.
Christian militias responded to Seleka abuses, attacking the Muslim minority community.
Thousands have died in bloodshed, and one in five Central Africans has fled, either internally or abroad.
Voting is expected to close at 4 p.m local time.