'Numerous irregularities': CAR opposition calls for elections to be annulled
In almost half of polling stations "voting did not take place or ballot sheets were destroyed."
BANGUI - Opposition figures in the Central African Republic on Tuesday called for last month's election to be annulled because of "numerous irregularities".
The electoral authority (ANE) declared incumbent Faustin Archange Touadera the winner late on Monday with almost 54% of the ballot, meaning a runoff will not be needed if the result is confirmed by the CAR's top court.
But the defeated opposition candidates said in a joint statement the December 27 elections for president and parliament had been "littered with numerous irregularities" and called for "a straightforward annulment".
They said only around 695,000 of 1.8 million registered voters were able to cast their ballot, equivalent to turnout of 37% rather than the 76.31% reported by the ANE.
Two-thirds of the country is controlled by armed groups, and many voters in these areas were unable to cast their ballots.
In almost half of polling stations "voting did not take place or ballot sheets were destroyed", ANE rapporteur Theophile Momokoama, told AFP.
The Constitutional Court has until January 19 to validate the result.
Anicet Georges Dologuele, a former prime minister who came second with 21% of the vote, promised to file a complaint to the court.
He accused the ANE of "disdainfully ignoring 947,452 Central Africans who were prevented from voting by the violence of armed groups".
Third-placed Martin Ziguele added: "I give no substance to these results, it's a masquerade, a shame for our country."
The elections are seen as a key test of stability in one of the world's poorest and most violence-prone countries.
The landlocked former French colony is still dealing with the aftershocks of a civil war in 2013 that followed the ousting of Touadera's predecessor Francois Bozize.
Thousands of people have died and nearly a quarter of the population have been displaced.
On Monday, prosecutors said an investigation had been launched into Bozize, whom the government accused of plotting a coup in the runup to polling day.
Government spokesman Ange-Maxime Kazagui on Tuesday said the elections had been credible and the result was a vote for peace.
"The results have been announced and I can only express my joy," he said.
International groups including the European Union and African Union provided finances to help organise the election and in a joint statement praised "the resolve of Central Africans to exercise their right to vote despite the many obstacles".
Russia, a strong ally of Touadera, said it hoped the election would "contribute to normalisation in the country".
But Thierry Vircoulon of the French Institute of International Relations think tank said the election was "a giant step backward" compared with 2016, the previous election that was also won by Touadera.
He told AFP the vote was "anything but credible" and real turnout was 30%.
A coalition of political opposition groups had called on December 19 for the elections to be cancelled, and reiterated that appeal three days after the vote.
Bozize is accused by the government of fomenting an attempted coup with three armed groups that tried to advance on the capital Bangui.
They were stopped by a combination of the CAR's armed forces and UN peacekeepers, as well as heavily armed Russian paramilitaries and Rwandan special forces flown in under bilateral pacts.
Although they failed to take Bangui, militias have gained ground in distant towns surrounded by territory that they already dominate.
For example, Bangassou, a town of around 30,000 people about 750 kilometres from Bangui, has been partially occupied since Sunday.