BANGUI, Central African Republic – Central African Republic will hold much-delayed national elections Wednesday that residents and the international community hope will bring stability after years of sectarian violence.
A transitional government has steered the nation toward elections that have been delayed several times. The National Election Authority proposed the most recent delay, from Dec. 27 to Dec. 30, to deal with technical and organizational difficulties.
"This time, everything will be fine throughout Central African Republic," said Julius Rufin Ngoadebaba, spokesman for the National Electoral Authority. He shot down allegations that illegal voter cards had been distributed.
Central African Republic citizens voted yes to a constitutional referendum on Dec. 13, a vote seen as test for national elections. Violence killed five in a neighborhood in the capital, Bangui, and unrest and violence elsewhere around the country saw delayed votes and results.
"The constitutional referendum vote allowed the electoral and country's authorities to unseal the difficulties that needed to urgently be addressed," said Minister of Territorial Administration Modibo Bachir Walidou. "Now we can say that elections on Dec. 30 will take place knowing exactly what needs to be done, by whom and how."
Voters are caught between hope and doubt for Wednesday's polls.
"We are ready and determined to go ahead with the vote of Dec. 30, because it is time our country comes out of this long crisis, recovers its institutions and that Central Africans find reconciliation and live together," said Mireille Djapou, a 26-year-old student.
The vote comes nearly a month after Pope Francis visited Central African Republic and called for peace and reconciliation between Christians and Muslims.
U.N. peacekeepers will be deployed to sensitive areas and 1,800 police and gendarmes will control other areas, officials said. Some 300 armed forces from the country will look after polling stations in the capital.
More than 1.8 million people are expected to vote at more than 500 polling stations.
There are 30 candidates running for president and many others running for the legislature. The campaigns ended Monday night.
Former prime ministers Martin Ziguele and Anicet Georges Dologuele are among the favored candidates.
Central African Republic has been rocked by unrest since March 2013 when a largely Muslim alliance of rebel groups known as the Seleka overthrew President Francois Bozize. When the rebel leader left power in 2014, a swift, horrific backlash by the Christian anti-Balaka militia against Muslim civilians followed. Sectarian violence has continued ever since, displacing nearly 1 million people.
Refugees in Cameroon, in the town of Garoua Boulai near the border with Central African Republic, are excited about the vote. Nearly 12,000 are registered to vote in a camp of about 25,000, officials there said.
Arnold Sami said that the people of Central African Republic have seen too much pain and suffering: "I am truly proud that they've decided to organize these elections, and after the elections I only want peace."
Associated Press reporter Joel Kouam in Garoua Boulai, Cameroon contributed to this report.