Burkina Faso votes in presidential election in the shadow of jihadist violence

Polls opened in Burkina Faso on Sunday for a presidential election that is likely to be dominated by concerns over jihadist violence that has claimed more than 2,000 lives this year alone and will block hundreds of thousands of votes due to security risks.

About 6.5 million people will vote in Sunday’s election. But almost 1,500 of the country’s 8,000 villages and 22 of more than 300 municipalities will not be able to vote due to security risks. The election commission says polling stations will remain closed over large parts of the north and east for fear of violence.

At least 400,000 people, or almost 7 percent of voters, will not be able to vote.

President Roch Kaboré is seeking a second five-year term, a campaign for achievements including free health care for children under the age of 5, and to pave some of the red gravel roads that snake across the arid West African country.

But a sharp increase in attacks by groups linked to al-Qaeda or the Islamic State has overshadowed everything else. Three weeks after Kaboré’s inauguration, al Qaeda’s regional branch attacked a hotel and cafe in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, killing 32 people.

Kaboré faces fierce opposition from former finance minister Zephirin Diabré, who was second in 2015, and Eddie Komboigo, leader of the party of Blaise Campaoré, who served as president for 27 years and was overthrown in 2014.

“I like Kaboré but he has not handled the security situation. North has been forgotten, there is no authority there,” said Tiadiane Bonkoungou, who sells blankets and draperies at a market stall in Ouagadougou.

Analysts expect a close race that could go to a second round if no candidate wins more than 50 percent. Provisional results from the first round are expected in the middle of the week.

Video: Burkina Faso: Thousands of IDPs face disenfranchisement from presidential election

( Jowharwith REUTERS and AFP)