, OUAGADOUGOU, Dec 2 – Burkina Faso awaited the results of parliamentary elections on Wednesday, with president elect Roch Marc Kabore hoping for strong support for his pledge to bring a “better tomorrow” to the west African country.
Kabore won 53.49 percent of ballots in Sunday’s presidential poll, sealing victory in the first round of the vote to become the first newly elected leader of the impoverished nation in three decades.
Spectators hope his win will restore stability after more than a year of upheaval that saw longtime leader Blaise Compaore toppled by a popular uprising and his supporters try to stage a coup.
“We must get to work immediately,” 58-year-old Kabore told crowds after the results were released Tuesday.
“Together we must serve the country,” he said, pledging “to open up opportunities for a better tomorrow”.
Kabore led the ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) party for over a decade and was seen as Compaore’s likely heir, but fell out with the strongman in 2012 and last year formed his own opposition party.
He expressed his “warm congratulations” to the transitional government that has run the west African country since Compaore was deposed by an uprising last year after trying to change the constitution to extend his 27-year rule.
The CDP was barred from fielding a candidate in the presidential poll under a contested law that prevented anybody connected with Compaore’s attempts to cling to power from seeking office.
But the well-entrenched party had several representatives standing in the parliamentary election and could score well under the system of proportional representation.
– ‘Waiting for the work’ –
Kabore’s victory was the largest in three decades with turnout at over 60 percent, far outstripping Compaore’s re-election results during his long stay in office. His nearest rival Zephirin Diabre scored 29.65 percent of votes.
Kabore, an affable strongly built ex-banker and politician, was long an ally of Compaore and even headed the ruling party.
But in 2012 he fell out of favour with the old regime and in his brief time in the opposition he became a driving force in the campaign to oppose Compaore’s bid for a third term in power.
“We have a new president, we hope he succeeds in his mission in the interests of the people who rose up and in the interests of all of Burkina Faso’s people,” said Harouna Kabore, spokesman for a score of civil society groups behind the October 2014 uprising.
Even Diabre supporters spoke out in support of the new leader, with waiter Medard Nedie saying: “The election was perfect, there were no problems, so he deserved to win. Now we’re waiting for the work.”
The United States hailed Burkina’s election as “a major milestone in the country’s democratic progress”.
“Burkinabe citizens have stood up to repeated attempts to infringe on their right to choose leaders in a legitimate process,” the National Security Council said in a statement.
President Francois Hollande of France, the former colonial power, spoke to Kabore by phone to congratulate him on his “clean and undisputed” victory and wish him well.
– ‘Soft exit’ –
After almost a year of interim government, activists returned to the capital’s streets in September to protest a short-lived putsch by loyalists of the former strongman in the presidential guard.
That unrest forced the presidential and parliamentary elections to be delayed, but Sunday’s vote went off largely without incident, with voters hungry for change standing in long lines to cast their ballot.
Political scientist Salam Kassem dubbed the election “one of the cleanest ever organised in Africa.”
“People opted for Roch because they didn’t want a brutal break, they wanted a soft exit from the previous regime.”
Burkina Faso’s 18 million people, most of whom live in grinding poverty, are hoping for a long era of peace and democracy.
Seen as a consensus figure by some and an opportunist by others, Kabore has pledged to build “a new Burkina Faso” by fighting youth unemployment, improving education and modernising the health system.
Around 25,000 members of the security force were deployed to keep the peace during the election, reflecting the nervousness in Burkina Faso over the uptick in Islamist attacks in neighbouring Mali.