Burkina Faso voted on Sunday in an election to choose the country's first new president in decades, a year after longtime leader Blaise Compaore was toppled in a popular uprising in which demonstrators faced down the security forces.
A successful election would establish the country as a beacon for democratic aspirations in Africa, where veteran rulers from Burundi to the Democratic Republic of the Congo have changed constitutions to pave the way for fresh terms in office. According to some survey results, only two presidential candidates have a real chance of winning: One was the former prime minister under Compaore, Roch Marc Kabore, and Zephirin Diabre, a businessman. Burkina Faso's elections also represent a turning point for a West African nation ruled by leaders who came to power in coups for most of its history since it declared independence from France in 1960.
Last year, Michel Kafando was named the interim president to lead the country until elections could be held. However, in September, units from the country's presidential guard, led by Gen. Gilbert Diendere, stormed into a cabinet meeting and arrested Kafando, Interim Prime Minister Isaac Zida and a handful of other government ministers. Following opposition from the country's military establishment, Kafando and Zida were released and the coup attempt failed.
Some 5.5 million people are registered to vote at more than 17,800 polling stations. Alain Jean-Claude Zagre, Burkina Faso's security minister, said more than 20,000 troops have also been deployed to maintain security. Also, more than 17,000 local and foreign observers were set to monitor the polls. Burkina Faso is an ally of the U.S. and France in the battle against al-Qaida-linked militants in the Sahel region.